Outlook: Kvaerner

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The Independent Online
IT WAS a nice little Kvaerner while it lasted, which was for the best part of a decade. Even now that he has gone, Erik Tonseth is not exactly on his uppers. His consolation prize for joining that small band of Norwegian chief executives who have been sacked by the board is a cool pounds 1.7m. Say it in Norwegian crowns and it sounds even better.

Mr Tonseth was on a three-year roller which would be virtually unheard of on these Anglo-Saxon shores now that boardroom excess is regarded in the same category as crimes against humanity.

Even in the clubby environment of the Olso bourse, where cross shareholdings are the order of the day and the Anglo-Saxons are deterred from poking their noses in by dual share structures, destruction of shareholder value on such an epic scale practiced by Mr Tonseth must have been hard to stomach.

Kvaerner's troubles date from the pounds 904m acquisition of Trafalgar House in 1996 from a grateful Hongkong Land. It was a deal which loaded the group with a debt mountain that Mr Tonseth found impossible to whittle away with asset sales.

Strangely, many of the Trafalgar businesses are performing rather well whilst the one bit that has so far been disposed of, the Cunard cruise line, was sold to the Americans at the top of the market.

Around at Kvaerner's St James HQ, they still talk of Mr Tonseth as a visionary. They are now going to have to adjust to a much more rugged approach as the group is shrunk to fit more modest circumstances and a tighter balance sheet. Mr Tonseth is still only 52 and has corporate life left in him yet if he can be bothered to leave the ski slopes. But for those left behind it will be a rough passage over the next few months.

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