‘Fish and ships’ tycoon turns 70

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John Fredriksen worked hard all his life to become one of the most powerful shipowners in the world. Along the way he also invested in other businesses, not least fish farming. The legendary tycoon, who now ranks as one of the wealthiest men not just in Norway but the world, turned 70 over the weekend and is showing no signs of slowing down.

John Fredriksen, arguably Norway's most successful shipowner and investor ever, turned 70 over the weekend. Fredriksen, who grew up in a working class district of Oslo now ranks as one of the world's wealthiest men. PHOTO: Håkon Mosvold Larsen / NTB Scanpix

John Fredriksen, arguably Norway’s most successful shipowner and investor ever, turned 70 over the weekend. Fredriksen, who grew up in a working class district of Oslo now ranks as one of the world’s wealthiest men. PHOTO: Håkon Mosvold Larsen / NTB Scanpix

His twin daughters Cecilie and Kathrine, who stand to inherit the empire Fredriksen built up, have tried to get their father to take it a little easier and enjoy life while he can. “Life isn’t supposed to be a punishment, Pappa,” Cecilie has admonished her father, according to newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN).

Fredriksen, however, doesn’t seem inclined to take his daughters’ advice. “My choice is either to continue to work and develop the companies, or sell out,” Fredriksen told DN during an interview at his offices in London. “The latter really isn’t an option. The alternative of having money in the bank at low interest rates isn’t very exciting. So I keep working and plan on leaving it to the next generation. Kathrine and Cecilie work in the group and have seats on the boards of the companies.”

Shipping and salmon tycoon John Fredriksen with his twin daughters Kathrine (left) and Cecilie, who now are working in several of his companies and sitting on their boards of directors. PHOTO: NTB Scanpix/Robert S Eik/VG

Shipping and salmon tycoon John Fredriksen with his twin daughters Kathrine (left) and Cecilie, who now are working in several of his companies and sitting on their boards of directors. PHOTO: NTB Scanpix/Robert S Eik/VG

Fredriksen has also contributed millions to Norway’s hospital specializing in cancer treatment and research, Radiumhospitalet, and hints that more investments loom. Parts of his huge fortune may be put into a foundation for medical research. “Something will be happening in that area,” he told DN, adding that his daughters will soon be taking part in a meeting about the project at the hospital. Another pet project has been the Vålerenga football club in Oslo, in the eastside area where he grew up. The club is in the midst of another economic crisis, and Fredriksen may pump more money into Vålerenga once again.

Fredriksen’s bank accounts at age 70 are impressive to say the least. They’re about to surpass NOK 25 billion (USD 4.2 billion). The money comes from dividends, the sale of collection agency Aktiv Kapital and shares in the German travel company Tui, along with some successful private investments.

Fredriksen calls it his “war fund,” which he thinks is “sensible” to have given the historical highs and lows in the shipping markets and business cycles. “It’s smart to sit with some cash when the markets fall and it’s possible to make some purchases again,” he told DN.

News broke late last week, coincidentally or not given Fredriksen’s looming birthday, that his personal fortune rose by the equivalent of NOK 4.5 billion again last year. The British newspaper Sunday Times has estimated it at NOK 92 billion (USD 15 billion), making Fredriksen the sixth-richest man in Great Britain. Financial news service Bloomberg estimates he’s the 50th richest man in the world. The man who started from scratch, with a father who was a welder and a mother who worked in a company canteen, has long held the largest private fortune of any other Norwegian although he’s known for battling Norwegian authorities and the government. He turned in his passport several years ago to legally become a Greek citizen based on Cyprus. His Norwegian companies pay millions of kroner in taxes every year, but Fredriksen himself went into a form of tax exile from Norway. He’s thus long been restricted as to how much time he can spend in Norway, and his main home is in London, after he famously bought one of the city’s most expensive properties, the Old Rectory, in the heart of Chelsea in 2001.

His shipping interests currently control 370 vessels and rigs, a fleet worth NOK 300 billion. They’re operated from London, Houston, Dubai, Rio de Janeiro, Oslo, Stavanger, Limassol, Singapore and Hamilton, Bermuda. And then comes his Marine Harvest salmon operations and other interests. He told DN that he and his longtime right-hand-man Tor Olav Trøim are talking about how to share the workload, with Trøim concentrating on Seadrill, Golar LNG and Marine Harvest, and Fredriksen continuing to use most of his time on the shipping interests.

His daughters are getting more and more involved too. “These are big shoes to fill,” Kathrine Fredriksen told DN. “We have to do it in our way.” She and her sister Cecilie insisted that their father has not pressured them into taking over his businesses. “He’s said that we need to choose what’s right for us, and what makes us happy,” Kathrine said. They seem to thrive, though: “There is never a boring moment around Tor Olav or Pappa,” Kathrine said.

Asked what his worst investment was, Fredriksen said it had to be his purchase of shares in the German shipping and travel company Tui. “We still have assets there valued at USD 250 million, but we took big losses on the shares we sold last winter.” His purchase of six large tankers from the Greek shipowner Latsis in 1997 was another ill-fated investment.

Asked what his best investment was, Fredriksen said it was Seadrill, “and before that, Frontline, which is in a class of its own.” His purchase of the tanker fleet in the shipowning company Golden Ocean was also among his “most positive” investments, Fredriksen said.

He celebrated his 70th birthday back home in Norway, at the property where his daughters grew up with him and their mother on Oslo’s Bygdøy peninsula. Fredriksen’s wife Inger Astrup Fredriksen died of cancer six years ago. His 96-year-old father Gunnar, however,  joined the birthday party. “He has some problems with his legs but is otherwise in great shape,” Fredriksen told DN. “He still drives and takes care of himself at home in Eidsvoll.” Father and son also share interests in fishing and hunting, which Fredriksen still takes time to pursue.

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund