Johan H Andresen, who inherited a fortune from his family’s old Tiedemanns tobacco business, went on to form a successful investment firm. Now, as an active investor himself, Andresen has been tapped to lead the ethics council that guides investments by Norway’s huge oil fund.
Some politicians immediately raised concerns about possible conflicts of interest for Andresen, who owns and runs his family’s investment company Ferd. After selling Tiedemanns to Skandinavisk Tobakskompagni in 1998, Andresen’s family sold out of tobacco completely in 2005, and netted NOK 3.2 billion.
That money has since gone into various businesses and social ventures, with Ferd now acting as an industrial and investment firm stressing active ownership. As head of Etikkrådet (The Ethics Council) for the oil fund, the 53-year-old Andresen also stands to be an active voice in its huge investment portfolio. The council’s job is to offer recommendations about excluding companies from the fund, or putting them on a watch list, if their business practices don’t comply with ethics fund guidelines. Norway’s central bank will then decide whether to take or reject the council’s advice.
Andresen, also known for his philanthropy, was formally named to the council by Finance Minister Siv Jensen of the Progress Party, who said the council members had the “correct and broad competence” needed to do the council’s job. Other members include Hans Christian Bugge, a law professor at the University of Oslo; Cecilie Hellestveit, a lawyer at the International Law and Police Institute at the University of Oslo; Arthur Sletteberg, an economist and leader of Norwegian Microfinance Initiative and Guro Slettemark, a lawyer and secretary general of Transparency International Norge. They’ll all assume their posts from January 1.
Hans Olav Syversen of the Christian Democrats party, who leads the Parliament’s finance committee, warned that given the Andresen family’s broad investment portfolio, Johan H Andresen may run into conflicts of interest when deciding on the ethics of companies in which the oil fund invests. “I expect the council to be extremely careful,” Syversen told newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN). “There can be even indirect situations where relations between the fund’ and a member’s interests can cross over.”
Andresen said he had no worries about any conflicts of interest. “We don’t invest directly in shares outside the Nordic area,” he told DN. “The probability of any conflicts is not very great. If there are, we must have faith that the Finance Ministry and Norges Bank (which oversees the oil fund through its Norges Bank Investment Management unit), have chosen people with enough integrity to speak up.”
Andresen added that he was “surprised” when he got the call to serve on the council, at the recommendation of central banker Øystein Olsen. He called it “an opportunity that must be seen as a form of community service.” The oil fund serves to secure pensions for future generations of Norwegians.