Norwegian state officials normally frown on lucrative executive pay deals and severance packages but now find themselves as party to one: Audun Eckhoff, the director of Norway’s National Museum whose eight-year stint was not renewed, will leave his post this month with two years worth of pay totalling around NOK 3 million (USD 362,000).
“This was an agreement that was entered into by the museum’s former board of directors,” Linda Bernander Silseth, who took over as leader of the National Museum’s board a few months ago, told newspaper Aftenposten. She inherited Eckhoff’s pay deal and said she would honour it even though she called it “unusual,” especially in the public sector.
It was approved in its time by her predecessor as museum board chairman, Svein Aaser, the former chief executive of Norway’s biggest bank (DNB) and former chairman of Telenor who was fired by the Norwegian trade minister after she lost confidence in him. Aaser, who preceded DNB’s current CEO who just had his bonus cut, told Aftenposten that Eckhoff’s pay deal was necessary at the time he was hired, because the museum had been through several years of top-management turbulence and uncertainty over its future.
“Today this is one of the finest cultural jobs in Norway,” Aaser said, adding that it earlier had become an unattractive post. “We are very glad that we could hire Eckhoff,” who stayed in the job for eight years.
Eckhoff wanted to continue, to see the National Museum through its upcoming move to a brand-new complex being built on Oslo’s western waterfront. Silseth and the new board opted instead to hire 42-year-old Karin Hindsbo away from the Art Museums in Bergen, and that’s been widely viewed as a popular choice. Hindsbo was granted a potential severance package of just one year’s pay.
If Eckhoff takes on a new job during the next two years, his pay deal will be shortened accordingly. He plans to step down on March 15, at which point the museum will be temporarily led by its administrative director Astrid Aksnessæther, until Hindsbo takes over from June 1.