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Wednesday, July 17, 2024

Business pioneer dead at 66

Wilhelm Blystad and his younger brother Arne shook up Norwegian business like no others had done before, with their raid on large shipowning firm Kosmos in the mid-1980s and daring ventures into other major, often risky, investments. The death of Wilhelm Blystad last month brought back memories of the Yuppie (called japp) age in Norway, and just how much has changed since then.

Wilhelm (right) and Arne Blystad, during their raider days in 1985. Note the electric typewriter and telephone receiver in the background, and the packs of Barclay cigarettes. PHOTO: NHST/ThOlsen

Norwegian media reported earlier this week simply that Wilhelm Blystad was dead at an age of 66, followed by an account of his glory days, There were no further details, and no cause of death given. When his obituary ran in newspaper Aftenposten on Tuesday, it showed that he actually died on July 21, indicating that his death was kept quiet for more than two weeks. His funeral was scheduled for Friday, at the local church in his rural hometown of Sokna, where he’d reportedly been living quietly on the family’s farm in recent years.

Sokna isn’t far from the popular ski resort of Norefjell, which Wilhelm Blystad played an important role in developing along with fellow investors Kristian and Roger Adolfsen. He was also behind many other real estate projects in Norway and a pioneer in deep-water drilling for oil and the development of floating production vessels. Blystad was one of the major players in the resurgent Norwegian shipping industry throughout the 1980s and 1990s.

It was, though, the spectacular takeover attempt of Kosmos, the firm with roots back to the legendary Nowegian shipowner Anders Jahre,  that made “The Blystad Brothers” (as they were widely known) famous in Norway, and well-known in shipping circles abroad as well. The handsome, well-dressed brothers in their 30s at the time became symbols of the Yuppie (Young Urban Professional) age, driving the newly popular and expensive Mercedes Geländewagen (forerunner along with the Jeep Wagoneer of today’s SUVs) and living dynamic lives in style.

They also dared to take on Norway’s so-called Gutteklubben Grei (roughly translated, the “good old boys’ club”) that formed the country’s business establishment. It was controlled by middle-aged and older Norwegian men who ran banks and shipping companies like Kosmos, which Wilhelm and Arne Blystad targeted for a hostile takeover. Such things had become common in the US but the young raiders shocked the staid Norwegian business and finance milieu. They eventually lost their effort, after their own Bergen Bank, which also was Kosmos’ bank, ordered them to vote against their own interests. Bergen Bank later failed along with rival bank DnC, were taken over by the state and merged to become DNB.

Wilhelm Blystad later told newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN) that the failed takeover of Kosmos was hard on him personally, leaving both brothers in heavy debt. Kosmos later disappeared and got caught up in all the tax evasion charges against its late founder. The Blystad Brothers re-grouped and carried on with other projects, with Arne remaining active after Wilhelm retreated to Sokna. He’s survived by his wife Line, three children and other family members, who wrote in his simple obituary that he had left them much too early. staff



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