State real estate boss steps down

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The new but embattled chief executive of the company managing Norway’s state-owned real estate, Entra Eiendom, gave up his post Wednesday night, after his hiring set off a major political row. Rune Olsø said he was resigning for the good of the company.

Rune Olsø has resigned his post as CEO at Entra Eiendom. PHOTO: Entra Eiendom

Olsø is an old friend of Trade Minister Trond Giske, has strong ties to the ruling Labour Party and had done business with a now-fired member of Entra’s board who had pushed through his hiring as Entra’s CEO at a salary of nearly NOK 4 million (USD 666,000). The high pay in a state-owned company, combined with charges of conflicts of interest, led to Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg stepping into the fray and appointing another government minister from another party, Bård Vegar Solhjell, to take over and restore order.

Olsø’s appointment, by a slim majority of the board, had also been opposed by board chairman Siri Hatlen. She survived Solhjell’s purge of Entra’s board earlier this week, but opposition politicians maintained it was an “intolerable” situation for Olsø to work for a chairman who didn’t want him.

He ultimately gave up his post with immediate effect on Wednesday “in cooperation with the board’s leader,” according to a press release from Entra. Olsø said he wanted to “restore calm for the company, its employees and its clients.”

Hatlen thanked Olsø, who had worked in top management for seven years, “for his contribution to Entra … and for the good results he has helped realize for the company and its owner (the state).” She said his decision to resign “shows he is first and foremost concerned with the company’s best.”

She said she and Olsø had “a constructive dialogue” this week and the new board appointed by Solhjell had been involved. Hatlen said Olsø will receive pay for the next six months plus three months of severance pay, but no bonus for 2012. Entra’s chief financial officer, Anne Harris, will take over as acting CEO until the board decides on Olsø’s replacement.

Executive pay levels in Entra have been higher than the average among private real estate firms, and that also set off protests from opposition politicians and within the Labour Party itself. It’s expected that the new Entra board will reduce pay levels after several prominent members of Labour complained they were excessive.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund

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