Top management over 50 years

Arve Johnsen, Harald Norvik, Olav Fjell, Helge Lund, Eldar Sætre and Anders Opedal are well-known names for most people with an interest in Equinor. Although life at the top can undoubtedly be lonely, these six CEOs have enjoyed the help and support of their most senior executives. This article reviews the management team/corporate executive committee (CEC) in Statoil/Equinor over the years.
By Björn Lindberg, Norwegian Petroleum Museum
- Official portraits of Arve Johnsen, Harald Norvik, Olav Fjell, Helge Lund, Eldar Sætre and Anders Opedal. Photos: Ole Jørgen Bratland, Øyvind Hagen/Equinor

Establishing exactly who was part of the company’s senior management can be something of a challenge. The information below comes largely from the annual reports. Since it is not always clear who was in the top team, however, certain assumptions have been made and the list may contain some errors.[REMOVE]Fotnote: An overview of Equinor’s top management over the past 50 years can be found here: List over top management 1972 – 2022.

Many views might be expressed about the diversity of senior executives, and will vary with the parameters applied. A long series of Norwegian men, and substantially shorter lists of foreigners and females, have been involved in running Statoil/Equinor over the five decades. They have borne a wide range of titles, held varying responsibilities, and dealt with the organisation at different stages in its growth. Other parameters which might indicate diversity have not been covered here.

While Johnsen’s Norwegian title was plain CEO, his successors added “group” to the designation. The original senior team was termed the top management, but has been called the CEC since Norvik’s time. This group has varied in size and composition.

Up to 31 December 2021, about 70 different people have served in Statoil/Equinor’s top leadership. Many of these crop up again and again, and served for a long time in different roles. Others appear for a year and then disappear – some to pop up in senior roles at other companies.

Stable under Johnsen

How far department heads are to be considered part of the senior management in the early years is not easy to determine from annual reports and the Status house journal. Arve Johnsen and his deputy, Henrik J Ager-Hanssen, jointly formed the top team until 1977, when two vice presidents were appointed. Ager-Hanssen served as deputy CEO for no less than 13 years, including Norvik’s first two.

The top management was expanded with another vice president in 1981, and again in 1984, so that it had six members during Johnsen’s final years. Leadership was stable during his 14-year reign, with only six people other than him and Ager-Hanssen involved. They were Jacob Øxnevad (vice president mercantile/technical), Jakob Eri (vice president operation/mercantile), Jan M Wennesland, Jon Huslid and Kåre Frank (vice president technical), and Martin Bekkeheien (vice president).

Arve Johnsen. Photo: unknown/Equinor

Barriers breached

With Harald Norvik’s arrival in 1987, the CEC designation was adopted and 18 people served on this body until his departure in 1999. During the early years, Ager-Hanssen, Jakob Bleie and Bekkeheien provided continuity with the Johnsen period. But a set of new brooms appeared in 1989. Membership of the CEC varied between four (1991-92) and nine (1998). Several milestones were passed under Norvik’s leadership.

Swede Staffan Riben became the first foreigner on the CEC in 1989, with responsibility for refining and marketing. The next foreigner was American Roger O’Neil, with another Swede – Sten-Åke Forsberg – appearing in 1998. At 1 January 2022, a total of 10 foreigners have served on the CEC – four Britons, two Americans, three Swedes and a Portuguese. At its maximum in 2021, four members were non-Norwegians – Ulrica Fearn, Carri Lockhart, Ana Fonseca Nordang and Al Cook.

The two first female members of the CEC were Elisabeth Berge and Grethe K Moen. Appointed in 1998, they were responsible for the state’s direct financial interest (SDFI) and industry and trade respectively. They led the way for a total of 13 female CEC members so far. No less than six of these were in place in 2021 – Carrie, Lockhart, Irene Rummelhoff, Jannicke Nilsson, Ulrica Fearn, Siv Helen Rygh Torstensen and Ana Fonseca Nordang.

Little change

During his four years as CEO, Olav Fjell made very few changes to the CEC. Eight people served in these years, including one woman (Berge) and one foreigner (Briton Richard John Hubbard). Berge, Erling Øverland and Peter Mellbye represented continuity with both before and after Fjell, while Inge K Hansen and Hubbard were new recruits.

New brooms with Lund and Hydro

A total of 21 people served at various times on the CEC during Helge Lund’s decade in office from 2004-14. His initial team in late 2004 included no less than eight new faces. Of these, Lund and Jens Jenssen, head of human resources, came from Norway’s Aker industrial group. Only Øverland and Mellbye remained from the previous committee. Its size was stable at nine to 10 members. After the merger with Norsk Hydro’s oil and energy division in 2007, three former Hydro executives – Hilde Merete Aasheim, Tore Torvund and Morten Ruud – joined the team. But they did not remain long, and had already been replaced the following year by two other Hydro carry-overs – Helga Nes and Øystein Michelsen – and Gunnar Myrebø from Statoil.

Steady as she goes with Sætre

Few changes were made to CEC during the early years under Eldar Sætre, who served as the CEO in 2014-20. Only two newcomers were in place at the end of 2014. A total of 15 people served on the committee during Sætre’s reign, including four foreigners and three women. The group was eventually enlarged to 11 members, with no external recruitment to these posts.

More women introduced

Anders Opedal largely retained the same crew when he took over the helm from Sætre in 2020. Only three new faces appeared on the CEC, including two in acting roles. The female proportion has increased noticeably since Opedal became CEO, with women accounting for six of 11 members in 2021 and five of 12 in 2022. Chief financial officer (CFO) Fearn is so far the only external recruit.

Long and true service

Mellbye is the longest-serving member of the CEC, where he sat continuously for 18 years from 1994 to 2011 under three CEOs (as well as two people acting in that role). His responsibilities covered European gas, natural gas and international exploration/development and production.

Margareth Øvrum spent 17 years on the CEC under three CEOs before retiring in 2020. During this time, she had responsibility for technology, projects, new energy, drilling, and Brazilian development and production.

Sætre also served for 17 years – eight as CFO, three as executive vice president for marketing, processing and renewable energy, and the final six as CEO.


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