Yngve Slyngstad has played a key role in the growth of Norway’s huge sovereign wealth fund known as the Oil Fund. After 12 years as Oil Fund boss, he should be leaving on a high note as he moves over to a new position within Norway’s central bank. Instead he’s leaving “embarrassed” and “really, really sorry” that he accepted a free ride on a luxurious private jet chartered by the man later hired to succeed him as chief executive of Norges Bank Investment Management (NBIM).
“I really screwed up,” Slyngstad wrote in a highly unusual but heartfelt apology to his colleagues and international employees at NBIM, the central bank unit responsible for the Oil Fund.
His lengthy message, distributed Wednesday evening in English via the central bank’s intranet system, was picked up and publicized by Oslo newspaper VG on Thursday. It was VG that first reported during this past weekend about a lavish seminar hosted last November by Slyngstad’s successor as the Oil Fund’s new boss, Nicolai Tangen.
Both Slyngstad and Slyngstad’s own predecessor as Oil Fund boss, Knut Kjær, were among Tangen’s roughly 130 guests at the weekend seminar at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton Business School called “Back to University.” Others included Norway’s ambassador to the UN Mona Juul, Norway’s trade minister at the time, Torbjørn Røe Isaksen, and many other prominent Norwegians, Americans and Europeans gathered by Tangen to learn and, as Slyngstad wrote, be involved in “thought-provoking exchanges.” Isaksen has also apologized for not being more open about his attendance at the seminar.
Slyngstad praised Tangen’s seminar program and wrote that Tangen himself is “known professionally to be someone who spans numerous fields of knowledge, breaking down thought barriers and holding up for contrast while keeping the nuances.” He called the “Back to University” seminar “something new” for him, and that he hopes Tangen, whom he earlier referred to as “our new CEO,” will bring some of his willingness to “challenge convention, create formats and be challenged” with him to NBIM.
“The willingness to try again and to share with others leave much to be admired,” he wrote.
Slyngstad went on to note that “many people have questioned the relationship between Nicolai Tangen and myself and why I went to this seminar in the first place.” Slyngstad wrote that he first met Tangen four years ago, had asked him to speak at NBIM’s annual Norwegian Financial Research Conference in August 2016, and kept in touch. “We have a professional, colloquial tone, but not a personal relationship,” Slyngstad wrote. When Tangen asked him to make a presentation at the Wharton seminar, Slyngstad accepted.
As reported earlier, it turned into three days of intense panel discussions, debates and mingling among people in fairly powerful positions, and included fine food and drink and even private concerts. The one that has received the most attention in Norway was a concert by Sting for which Tangen paid USD 1 million. Tangen’s cost per guest has been estimated at NOK 160,000 (USD 16,000)
It was when heading back to Oslo, Slyngstad said, that he “really screwed up” by flying home along with several other invited Norwegian guests on an elaborately modified Boeing 777 jet that had been chartered by Tangen. “I am embarrassed to give myself a fail (for lack of judgement) this time,” Slyngstad wrote.
“One could try to justify the chartered flight with time saved on travelling,” he added. “But not really.” The lavish flight “was not in line with out modest profile or our brand,” the outgoing boss of Norway’s Oil Fund wrote. “It was lack of good judgement and a classic example of how not to be professional, disregarding all my years of experience and caution.”
He equated it to mountain climbing: “It’s when you are tired and think that you have made it, that you fall.”
‘Really, really sorry’
Slyngstad’s self-flagellation in his message may well be unprecedented in Norway. He certainly “laid himself down flat,” as Norwegians are fond of saying. He apologized to colleagues and employees “for letting you down, for letting the reputation of Norges Bank Investment Mangement down, and for letting our organisational culture down. I am really, really sorry.”
Both Slyngstad and Norges Bank Governor Øystein Olsen have denied any connection between the seminar and the employment process for Slyngstad’s successor. Tangen himself has told VG that Slyngstad was invited to take part in a panel discussion on the world economy. He has also stressed that invitations to the seminar were sent out 18 months in advance, long before Slyngstad resigned.
The central bank’s supervisory board, which monitors the bank on behalf of the Norwegian Parliament, had a nearly five hour meeting with Olsen on Wednesday and has more questions about the employment process. Tangen is currently due to take over as CEO in charge of the Oil Fund in August.