More turmoil in fish-farming

Bookmark and Share

One of the largest fish-farming businesses in the world, Marine Harvest of Norway, fired its hard-working and popular chief executive this week in a swift and surprising move. Åse Aulie Michelet cleaned out her office and left the company immediately, after some hasty good-byes.

Åse Aulie Michelet

Michelet had only headed Marine Harvest, controlled by shipping tycoon John Fredriksen, for the past two years but already had made her mark. She had widespread support among employees, guided the company from heavy losses to strong profits and was well-regarded by investors and analysts. Marine Harvest’s stock rose during her short tenure and fell on news of her departure.

“For me this was very surprising,” Michelet, age 57, said in a prepared statement. “I have held an industrial profile, and I think we’ve accomplished a lot. We have had very good results recently.”

But newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN) reported Thursday that the results apparently weren’t good enough for Fredriksen. Operating margins at Marine Harvest haven’t been as good as those at competitors, and there reportedly were fears that trend would continue.

Analyst Klaus Hatlebrekke at DnB Markets also told newspaper Aftenposten that Fredriksen and his right-hand man Tor Olav Trøim generally “develop companies with the idea of sale or takeover. That can lead to uncertainty over who’s leading the process. And was she good enough to steer the process?”

Hatlebrekke praised Michelet’s performance, though, and told DN he thought her background in the pharmacy industry (she earlier was a top executive at GE Healthcare and Nycomed Amersham) was a good fit for Marine Harvest, given its fish farming business, recent waves of illness among the fish and use of antibiotics. “It’s also not necessarily her fault that margins have been weaker than competitors,'” he said.

Marine Harvest officials wouldn’t comment on the reasons for her firing, beyond saying there’d been “disagreement.” Thomas Farstad, current head of operations in Canada and Scotland, was named acting CEO.

The three board members representing employees all voted against her firing. “We have had full confidence in her, she’s done a good job,” Geir-Elling Nygård told Aftenposten. “She has reorganized management, been goal-oriented and worked systematically and produced good results.”

Marine Harvest has, though, been hit hard by sickness among its salmon at operations in Chile, where production has declined nearly 80 percent in two years. Losses have been heavy, and there’s been ongoing concern about the threat of sickness in Norway as well.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund
Join our Forum if you’d like to comment on this story.