Sigve Brekke had long been considered the top candidate to take over as chief executive at Telenor when his appointment was announced on Tuesday. His base pay will be even higher than that of his predecessor, Jon Fredrik Baksaas, but most analysts and Telenor’s board members clearly think he’s worth it.
Brekke, age 55, has worked for Telenor since 1999 and headed its Asian operation, as an executive vice president of Telenor Group, since 2008. He’s an expert on Telenor’s most important, ever-growing markets, in Asia.
“For me, his appointment was completely obvious,” Per Gunnar Nordahl, an analyst at Arctic Securities, told Dagens Næringsliv (DN). “It’s been clear for a long time that the company needs a person with lengthy international experience. He (Brekke) knows Telenor’s systems well and how (the company) thinks, especially in the international operations.”
Telenor’s chairman Svein Aaser, the former CEO of Norway’s biggest bank DNB, said he was “extremely glad” that the entire board of Telenor backed Brekke’s appointment. “We have run a very comprehensive process,” Aaser told DN. He wouldn’t say how many other candidates were under review, but allowed that “there were many.” It’s believed that the head of Telenor’s European operations, Kjell Morten Johnsen, was among them as was Berit Svendsen, managing director in Norway. Telenor was also under a certain amount of political pressure to appoint a female CEO, but Svendsen lacked the international experience that Brekke has, and Telenor’s growth is taking place almost entirely outside Norway.
Nordahl, the analyst, noted that Brekke’s involvement in Telenor’s troublesome operations in India was a strike against him, but the Asia operations otherwise have been successful, “and that’s where the future lies.”
Brekke himself called it “a great honour” to be asked to lead Telenor, and sent out a message on social media that he was “looking forward to executing our strategy with my 33,000 colleagues.” He told DN he was “very grateful to have been a part of Jon Fredrik Baksaas’ team.” Baksaas returned the compliment, saying that Brekke “has great enthusiasm and works hard. He can get up at 5:30 in the morning and travel from city to city.” He thinks Telenor’s board “chose the right person.”
Brekke has a master’s degree in public administration from Harvard University and served as a state secretary in the Defense Ministry for a Labour Party government from 1993 to 1996. It was just after Brekke started at Telenor that the company, rooted in Norway’s former state telephone utility, was listed on the Oslo and New York stock exchanges, in 2000. The state still holds 54 percent of Telenor’s stock.
Brekke will earn a base salary of NOK 5.9 million (USD 787,000), more than Baksaas’ NOK 5.4 million, and he’ll be eligible for an annual bonus equal to 30 percent of base salary. With bonus and pension, his pay last year already reached NOK 11.2 million, just a bit less than what Baksaas earned. He’ll take over on August 17, replacing Baksaas, who held the post for the past 13 years.