Former head of Statoil Harald Norvik describes the comprehensive government ownership in Norway as "surprisingly successful." He thinks the reason is more complex than a strong Norwegian economy. Norwegian companies with government co-ownership show better performance on the stock market than similar companies in Europe.
Norvik, who has held positions as CEO of Statoil and Chairman of Telenor, has recently published the book The government as Capitalist together with former CEO of Hydro Egil Myklebust and history professor Einar Lie. The basis for the book is that the government ownership in Norwegian businesses is larger than in other countries, and that the government-owned companies are very large compared to the rest of the economy.
He explains that Germans, the British and Americans have difficulties understanding why the Norwegian government is not more controlling and activist as a co-owner. "Government ownership in Norway is surprisingly successful," is Norvik's simple conclusion.
When comparing Norwegian government-owned companies to other European companies within the same industry, research shows that five out the six companies studied have performed better during the past ten years.
According to Norvik, the success is based on the government's role as owner, and that it has chosen to involve few other private owners, but rather use the stock market; that the government differentiates between its role as owner and regulating authority; manages the companies as other owners through the board; follows the rules for good company management; and treats all shareholders as equals.