The best of Norwegian business

A look at some of Norway’s greatest places to work

John Erik Stacy, 6 July 2010

“Which companies treat their people best?” is the question asked every year by the Great Place to Work Institute. They address this and related questions by poling employees in companies the world around.

TANDBERG, a leader in video conferencing equipment, topped the Great Place to Work list in Norway (Photo TANDBERG).

TANDBERG, a leader in video conferencing equipment, topped the Great Place to Work list in Norway (Photo TANDBERG).

tandbergLogo

 Results for companies in Norway? Once again, TANDBERG tops the list (see table). TANDBERG was at the top of the list last year too, and placed 2nd the year before. The result for TANDBERG is none-the-less somewhat surprising in light of its recent acquisition by Cisco Systems. The study by Great Place to Work was conducted after the acquisition, but employees still expressed trust and pride in the company. There is no doubt the company has recognized the importance that corporate culture plays in fostering an environment of creativity and productivity. “Culture eats strategy for breakfast” is the catch phrase that may be bandied about by the likes of Annicken Rød, TANDBERG’s Chief Cultural Officer. The phrase suggests that how employees interact with each other and their superiors is more important than plans laid down by company leadership (or at least that the execution of a strategy is completely dependent on buy-in from employees). Bjørn E. Hviding, a partner in Great Place to Work, made statements to these points in a press release (my translation): “In an ever more knowledge-based work environment, where human capital and people are the most important resources, trust becomes continually more important. We are moving from a more transaction-based work environment where contracts and law cement organizations, to a work environment where trust between employees, trust of leadership and trust between business partners has become more important than before.” Although the company has evolved toward more specialized products, the brand is well known Norway. Founded as Tandbergs Radiofabrikk in 1933 by Vebjørn Tandberg, TANDBERG is an electronics company with deep tradition in fostering good relationships between management and the workers on the floor. No doubt Cisco believes in the synergy between its internet solutions and products developed by TANDBERG, like the E20 personal videoconferencing system. But they probably also have their eye on the people that made these quality products and the human capital they represent in their acquisition of the company for $20 billion.

Steria

Of the large companies in Norway rewarded as “Great Places” 7 of the 10 are companies headquartered in Norway. Place number 2 in the list is occupied by Steria, a company of French origin. This company was founded in 1969 by Jean Carteron, one of the pioneers in information technology. Steria employs 460 people in Norway and 19,000 world wide. Steria’s clients are mostly in Europe. Other “outside” companies in the list are Adecco from Switzerland and Eniro of Sweden. Adecco is the company with greatest revenue in this list at €14.80 billion in 2009 (although this is still just half of TANDBERG’s new owner Cisco Systems at $36 billion) and is a company working directly with human capital.

Private companies

Interestingly, most of the Norwegian companies awarded do not offer publicly traded shares. Flytoget and Statnett are in essence government owned whereas the others without a “ticker” are private companies. Among these, Reitangruppen, led by Odd Reitan and his family, is the company with greatest revenues at about $9.5 billion in 2008. Reitangruppen is behind retail operations such as the REMA 1000 grocery stores, 7-Eleven in Norway, HydroTexEasy24, Narvesen, Spaceworld and Pressbyrån. The company owns nearly 2000 stores, most in Norway but some also in Sweden, Denmark and Latvia. The other retail based company in the list is Bertel O. Sten, a conglomerate with main focus on automotive products. Note also that 4 of the 10 companies in the list are internet related. Statnett is the only energy company in the list.

In 2009, eight of the top 100 “Great Places” in Europe were Norwegian companies. The Great Places to Work Institute web-site outlines steps to assess the culture of a company and actions that can be taken to build on company strengths. They calculate a “Trust Index” based on a survey of employees as well as a “Culture Audit” of management.

An extremely relevant note to investors, a portfolio of stocks based on the Great Places to Work Institute’s 100 Best publicly traded companies significantly outperformed major indices. To show this, two approaches to 100 Best were employed on the period from 1998 through 2009. The “Buy and Hold” approach was simply to put equal dollar amounts into each of 100 Best stocks and hold them over the entire period. The “Reset Annually” approach liquidated at the end of every year to re-invest in the companies according to that years 100 best rank (again, at equal dollar amounts for each company in the list). The average annual yields were 6.44% for “Buy and Hold” and 10.30% for “Reset Annually” versus 2.95% for the S&P 500 on the same time period.

This suggests there is a direct relationship between treating people well and making money!

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Visit http://www.greatplacetowork.com/ to learn more.

This article was originally published in the June 25, 2010 issue of the Norwegian American Weekly. For more information about the Norwegian American Weekly or to subscribe, call us toll free (800) 305-0217 or email subscribe@norway.com.

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