Bringing values to life: Johan H. Andresen, Ferd

Global Family Business Survey 2018

“I’ve reformulated the traditional idea of the long term with the idea of ‘we can be impatient for a very long time.’"

Johan H. Andresen, Ferd, Norway

“Ask not what the company can do for you, but what you can do for the company.”

“Ask not what the company can do for you, but what you can do for the company.”

It would be hard to beat this for originality and creativity as a family business mission statement, paraphrased, of course, from former US president John F. Kennedy’s most resonant quote.

But for Norwegian business leader Johan H. Andresen, it is simply an effective way to express how he and his family have approached defining, articulating and living the values that drive the Ferd group of companies, which operate in the Nordic region. In essence, the family decided that it had to live up to the company’s long-cherished values, rather than the other way around.

Pinpointing this distinction was part of deliberations that took place 20 years ago at an important juncture in the trajectory of the family’s business interests.

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Bringing values to life: Johan H. Andresen, Ferd [17:18 mins]

Ferd’s origins go back more than 160 years, when Andresen’s great-great-grandfather, also called Johan, bought a tobacco company called Tiedemanns, which became the basis of the family business. Tiedemanns soon became one of the biggest tobacco firms in Scandinavia. The family used money from Tiedemanns to diversify into shipping, publishing, packaging and consumer products. But in the 1990s, with increasing pressure on tobacco companies from governments and anti-tobacco groups, the family decided tobacco was no longer a business they wanted to be in.

They sold off the tobacco interests and established Ferd, which has holdings in a range of businesses, including some highly successful non-listed companies. Many of these are in Norway’s energy sector, like oil and renewable energy services company Aibel; oilfield technology business Interwell; and the country’s biggest ferry operator, Fjord Line. Ferd (from a Nordic word for ‘journey without an end’) also invests in publicly-listed stocks, hedge funds and real estate. The Oslo-based investment group has also pioneered social entrepreneurship and pursued many so-called impact investments – those designed to create a social or environmental benefit.

When Ferd was created, Andresen, his family and those running the new business felt able to set out a properly defined set of values. Although a set of family values had guided the legacy business for almost two centuries, they decided they really needed values to guide the company and the family’s interaction with it.

“Previous to establishing Ferd, we as a family internalised our values,” explains Andresen. “They were good, old-fashioned types of values, like honesty, dedication and loyalty. But they weren’t something that drove the business. Once we established Ferd, we tried to make a conscious set of assigned values – more precisely, values we would like people to talk to us about, in those terms.

“We weren’t going to take our family values and say, ‘The business should be like this.’ You might say the company’s values overwrite the family’s values.”

That’s where Kennedy’s aphorism comes in. “The family’s values are a reflection of [that],” says Andresen.

They laid out the company’s values in four points: credibility; a spirit of adventure; team play; and a long-term view of goals and success.

Credibility is very important to Ferd, says Andresen. It means something more than trust. “Credibility isn’t something you have. You can’t buy it; you can’t make it up and say you’re more credible today than you were yesterday. Credibility is different from trust; it means that you actually believe in someone who’s doing something they’ve never done before – and that is something we are doing all the time. We always do something we haven’t done before.”

Andresen says this idea of credibility is also an important factor in Ferd’s efforts to attract the best talent. “The people we are trying to hire have an option. They can go elsewhere because they have a huge amount of potential; everyone wants them. But if you’re a values-based owner with credibility, those high-potential people select you.”

Part of the hiring effort is geared towards the ‘team play’ value. And Andresen says the fact that Ferd has little staff turnover is a testament to its success in recruiting team players.

Family businesses often take a long-term view in their decision-making processes and value the concept when it comes to evaluating returns. But Andresen feels Ferd has added a new twist to the concept. “I’ve reformulated the traditional idea of the long term with the idea of ‘we can be impatient for a very long time.’ In other words, the concept of the long term for a family business is not a resting point; it isn’t a pillar that enables things to fix themselves. No, things won’t fix themselves. You need to be constantly impatient for success, but against the background of long-term objectives.”

A strong indication that values are also important in generating deal flow is that the most recent investments made by Ferd were in two other family businesses where the owners selected Ferd as their partner over other suitors.

Family businesses like Ferd that reinvent themselves perhaps don’t get too bogged down with the idea of legacy. As Andresen says: “Of course, there is a legacy, all the stuff we’ve done. But let’s look at what we are going to do. That is the best way of having a legacy.”

That said, the impact of five generations of the Andresen family who built a business empire endures. Andresen says he honours that through his efforts beyond Ferd, such as setting up a microfinance fund and Ferd’s social enterprise efforts. He is also chair of a council of ethics for Norway’s oil fund, one of the world’s biggest sovereign wealth funds. “As family owners, we always said the leader doesn’t just lead in a closed company. They have two roles. One was to run the company, and the other was to play an active role in society. Successive generations have tried to live up to that responsibility. All these things stretch and modernise the legacy,” Andresen says. “You’re making a legacy outside of the company that feeds back to the values of credibility.”

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Peter Englisch

Peter Englisch

Global Family Business and EMEA Entrepreneurial and Private Business Leader, Partner, PwC Germany

Tel: +49 201 438 1812

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Contact us

Peter Englisch

Peter Englisch

Global Family Business and EMEA Entrepreneurial and Private Business Leader, Partner, PwC Germany

Tel: +49 201 438 1812

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Francesca Ambrosini

Family Business Client Programs, PwC United Kingdom

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