Tor Olav Trøim, the 51-year-old investor and businessman who’s been working for and with billionaire shipping tycoon John Fredriksen for nearly 20 years, insists he’ll be working just as hard as always after announcing that he would “leave his full-time position” with the Fredriksen-controll Seatankers Group as of July 31. Speculation was flying over whether Trøim will end up with even more responsibility in the Fredriksen system or whether the two have agreed on an amicable divorce.
“If you look at the work assignments I’ll have in the future, this looks like something completely different (than paring back on the workload),” Trøim told newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN) on Wednesday. “I will be working just as much as before.”
Trøim was reacting to media reports in Norway that he would be cutting back after accepting a severance payment in the form of shares in two key companies controlled by Fredriksen: Golar LNG Ltd (3 million shares) and the world’s largest rig company Seadrill Ltd (2 million). The value of the shares, transferred to Trøim from Fredriksen’s firms World Shipholding and Hemen Holding, was estimated at NOK 1.6 billion (USD 267 million), prompting local media to dub it as Norway’s “greatest severance deal of all time.” It’s unclear whether they’ll really be severing ties.
Neither Trøim nor Fredriksen wanted to elaborate on the lengthy press release (external link) issued Tuesday describing their new “reorganization” of duties. In it, both went to great lengths to thank and praise each other, and Fredriksen, who turned 70 last spring, has credited Trøim with much of his success in recent years. “It’s gone well between Tor Olav and me,” Fredriksen told DN in May, adding that even though they’ve had their differences, they complement each other well. “That’s why I’ve gotten to where I am,” Fredriksen said.
Fredriksen hired Trøim to work for his Seatankers Group in 1995, and Seadrill’s press release referred to him as an “instrumental force” in transforming Fredriksen’s holding company for Seatankers from a shipping firm concentrating on the tanker industry to a major investment company with holdings in firms in a variety of industries. During Trøim’s tenure, the company took over the Swedish shipowning company Frontline and expanded it greatly, followed by investments in the gas carrier firm Golar LNG, and then, in addition to more shipping ventures, more major investments in the offshore industry, fish farming, collection agencies and even the travel business. While they sold out of German travel firm Tui and Aktiv Kapital, they took over Smedvig and turned Seadrill into the world’s biggest offshore player while also building up the huge salmon and seafood producer Marine Harvest, after buying up Pan Fish, Fjord Seafood and Stolt Seafood. Oil service firm Seawell is another major holding, after its acquisition of Allis-Chalmers.
Trøim, educated as a ship’s engineer in Trondheim who quickly started working in the business world, also recently became a father and remains engaged to the child’s mother, cosmetics heiress Celina Middelfart. They’ve become one of Norway’s jet-set couples and were among guests at the wedding of Swedish Princess Madeleine last year, not long before Trøim signed a gas deal with Russian firm Rosneft in the presence of controversial Russian President Vladimir Putin. Trøim, like Fredriksen, legally moved out of Norway to avoid the country’s tax regime and now lives mostly in London.
Trøim, who has shared Fredriksen’s support for and financial aid to Oslo’s Vålerenga football club, will continue as vice chairman of both Golar LNG and Seadrill, among other positions, and is expected to join the board of North Atlantic Drilling Ltd. While some media commentators viewed Trøim’s resignation from Seatankers Group as confirmation of friction with Fredriksen, whose twin daughters stand to inherit his empire, others think Fredriksen is actually turning over more responsibility for Seadrill and Golar to Trøim. Their announcement claims that both “look forward to continuing our successful partnership, albeit in a different form in the future.”
“I’ve had 19 fantastic years in the Fredriksen system and now I want to work a bit differently,” Trøim told DN. “It’s nothing more dramatic than that.”