Speculation flies over CEO’s exit

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Aker Solutions’ CEO Simen Lieungh left his job on Wednesday and speculation began immediately over why. The 22-year veteran of Aker and predecessor Kværner firm wouldn’t say, nor would Aker’s board, other senior managers or Aker’s supreme boss, tycoon Kjell Inge Røkke.

Simen Lieungh had worked for Aker Solutions and its predecessor companies, the Kværner and Aker Kværner firms, for nearly all of his adult working life. PHOTO: Aker Solutions

“I ask for respect that I don’t get into the reason for my departure,” Lieungh said after his abrupt exit. “This is a matter between the board and me.” He added, though, that it reflected “a common understanding that has developed over time,” as opposed to any single matter tied to the company’s operations or projects.

He also allowed that he was sorry he couldn’t continue as chief executive at the large offshore and engineering firm, but that he “looked forward to follow the results of what we started.”

Investors reacted badly to the news, sending Aker Solutions’ stock down by 6 percent. One analyst said the share decline wasn’t surprising when there’s such an abrupt and unexpected change at the top of a major company.

“There was nothing that indicated this would happen last week,” analyst Endre Storløkken of Danske Bank told business news service E24.no.

Some company observers suspect a major disagreement over strategy, internal conflicts or a power struggle. Newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN) reported that Lieungh is the sixth top executive to leave Aker Solutions, which is controlled by Røkke, in the past 18 months.

Lieung actually had quit predecessor company Aker Kværner in 2008, noted DN, when he was responsible for field development. Ongoing rumors that Aker would be sold tempted Lieungh to go work for shipowner Arne Blystad, but Røkke wanted him back and he returned as CEO.

Røkke, however, is known as a demanding man to work for and Lieungh’s departure came just after a board meeting Tuesday evening. Some speculate difficulties began during last year’s spectacular conflict between Røkke and the Norwegian state, when Røkke angered state officials by orchestrating some controversial internal sales shortly after the state had invested heavily in Aker.

Lieungh, age 50, has delivered record earnings for Aker Solutions and was given severance pay amounting to NOK 7.5 million. Aker Solutions Chairman Øyvind Eriksen will take over as interim CEO and Chief Financial Officer Leif H Borge as president until a successor to Lieungh is found. 

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund
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