Kjell Inge Roekke, Norway's gigantomaniac tycoon

Sun Jun 8, 2014 6:04am EDT
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By Gwladys Fouche and Joachim Dagenborg

OSLO (Reuters) - He is the self-made man who changed the way business was done in Norway, and from this week, Kjell Inge Roekke, a flamboyant billionaire with an explosive temper and a taste for the supersized, can also call himself an oil baron.

His company Det norske, hitherto a rather modest oil explorer, paid $2.1 billion in cash to bag Marathon Oil's Norwegian business, turning it into the Nordic country's second-largest oil producer behind Statoil.

It is deals such as this that have turned Roekke, 55, into one of Norway's richest men, and turned his holding company, Aker ASA, into the country's largest private industrial group, with controlling stakes in Det norske, oil services firm Aker Solutions, heavy equipment maker Kvaerner, plus shippers and fisheries.

It has been a precipitous climb. Born in Molde, a small town on Norway's west coat, he left high school a dyslexic teenager with no qualifications and crossed the Atlantic to become a fisherman, catching pollock and crab from a base in Seattle.

He invested in a number of old boats, modified them into advanced factory trawlers, and so built his fortune. In the early 90s, he came back to Norway to shake up its sedate business world.

Roekke and a partner set their sights on one of Norway's venerable conglomerates, 173-year-old Aker, quickly bought up 40 percent of its shares in 1996, and merged it with their own Resources Group International, before snapping up Kvaerner four years later.

"He was the first one to bring American-style, aggressive capitalism to Norway, daring to use shareholder power to get what he wanted," said Steinar Dyrnes, a journalist at the Aftenposten daily who wrote a biography of Roekke.

"This was quite unheard of in Norway at the time," he said.   Continued...

Kjell Inge Roekke attends a Fourth of July celebration at the U.S. Ambassador's residence in Oslo June 20, 2012.      REUTERS/Lise Serud/NTB Scanpix