Kristian Monsen Røkke, the 31-year-old son of Norwegian industrialist and Aker chief executive Kjell Inge Røkke, has capped off his impressive turnaround of Aker’s struggling US shipyard with a degree from one of the world’s most prestigious business schools. The younger Røkke was presented with his Masters of Business Administration (MBA) from Wharton, the business school attached to the Ivy League University of Pennsylvania over the weekend.
Røkke spent two years studying at Wharton while he also worked to turn around the fortunes of the struggling Aker Philadelphia Shipyard, reported newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN). Only one in four applicants get into the prestigious executive MBA program, which costs around NOK 1 million (USD 170,000). It’s designed for business leaders to study alongside their daily work, but the university said it’s as demanding as any full-time course.
At the shipyard, Røkke started with an empty dock in 2011 and today has a full order book. Under his leadership, Aker Philadelphia increased its market value from NOK 40 million to NOK 2.6 billion, and staffing numbers have tripled to more than 1,000 employees. Meanwhile, he also became a father for the first time and now he’s destined to take on an even bigger role in the Aker empire that his own father controls after taking it over several years ago.
“I have had 100 percent focus on utilizing the hours in the day in an effective way,” Røkke told DN after the ceremony on May 17, Norway’s Constitution Day. “There have been long days.”
“The education gives me the courage to dare to be the ‘stupidest in the room’ – to ask questions and admit that I don’t know everything or have all the answers,” he said. “It’s one of the most important things a leader can do.” The MBA was his third degree, following on from studies at the London School of Economics and the BI Norwegian Business School (Handelshøyskolen BI).
Røkke’s family and friends were in the auditorium to see him graduate, waving Norwegian flags to mark the national bicentennial celebrations and his heritage. “I’m impressed by how he has balanced work and studies,” Kjell Inge Røkke told DN. “He’s been very disciplined.”
Røkke senior, who is one of Norway’s richest men despite having no formal education himself, wrote of his pride in his annual letter to shareholders last month. “It makes a dyslexic and uneducated school drop-out and fisherman, who moved to the USA in 1980, proud,” he wrote.
The University of Pennsylvania was founded by Benjamin Franklin in 1740. Wharton is ranked among the world’s best business schools alongside Harvard and Stanford. Wharton’s Catherine Molony said Røkke had impressed the institution. “Kristian has done important work for the region and created many job positions, but also emerged as a leader in his class,” she told DN. “We are proud of him.”
The duty to give back to the community is a central tenet of the school, and the graduates were encouraged to be community “patriots” in the farewell speech. Røkke said it was a message he would carry with him. “This is something we’ve been challenged on during the studies,” he said. “I’ll travel from here with more ballast to make better decisions business-wise and privately, and hope to be able to assist in many areas – and make a difference.”
Local officials have also been impressed, and said they’ll be sorry to see the younger Røkke go, as his career in Aker moves on. “Young man, you will be remembered long after you’ve left Philadelphia,” said the deputy governor of Pennsylvania during a ship’s christening at the yard last month.