Success worth millions in the outskirts

Published: 27.09.11(Updated: 25.10.11)

The entire world is the market for 5578 Nedre Vats and 5582 Ølensvåg.

Vindafjord/Ølensvåg: The fjords have fostered farms and fishermen. Countless generations have lived off the soil and sea for centuries. Some of the young residents with other ambitions went to Stavanger, Haugesund or Bergen. Some decades ago two creative young men were especially passionate about their own ideas and the local community.

In Vindafjord

Photo of Sigmund Lunde

Today, they are leaders for key companies with millions in turnover and hundreds of employees. The world is their market.

The main offices are still located in their hometowns, Vatsfjorden and Ølensvåg in Vindafjord – an agricultural municipality turned industrial center with shanty towns for employees from a number of countries. Traffic runs fast in between gnarled mountains with green hills along the Vats lake. People hurry through the beautiful landscape, on their way to their mountain cabins in Røldal or Hardangervidda. Some are heading for the eastern part of Norway, drivers only stop for a cup of coffee at the local gas station.

An adventure

Sigmund Lunde (49) is strolling around, barefoot in sandals and shorts in Omega`s crowded offices by the sea. “It has been an adventure. We were at the right place, at the right time with the right crew, and had a bit of luck”, Lunde says smiling.

Big business

The fjord is sparkling outside the office windows, and some hundred yards away we see an oilrig ready for upgrades and repair at Westcon AS. The old shipyard has specialized in maintenance and repair of platforms and the assignments have been lined up. Westcon`s neighbor is Ølen Betong. They have also expanded the horizon beyond the subdivisions at home. Ølen Betong has delivered concrete to the Snøhvit gas field terminal and to one of the largest tunnel projects in the country. They have also established an department in Murmansk Russia.

Slackers on marketing

Omega remains the flagship in Ølensvåg with its 825 employees and a turnover of 900 MNOK. Next year`s goal is Omega at 1000, meaning 1000 employees and a turnover at 1000 MNOK, one billion. On the Norwegian financial magazine Kapital`s list of the biggest Norwegian software companies Omega was ranged number two. The magazine did not mention the company with one word, while the others got much review. “We spend nothing on marketing, we`re slackers in that area”, Lunde admits. But the oil companies know Omega, and they are the main customers.

Debated platform decommission

South of Ølen another point of the fjord appears among dark mountains. From the top of a subdivision in between the woods, Ansgar Frøland has a view of AF Decom`s reception facility for decommissioned offshore installations. It has become major industry, and a much debated one. “It is not a good neighbor, much noise, dust and smoke. And mercury has leaked out into the fjord, he complains. Looking up from the fjord, he sees the cozy buildings of the Hatteland Concern.

In the barn

Ansgar Frøland was a childhood friend with the Hatteland entrepreneur, Jacob Hatteland (59). “Jacob started what became a multi-million project back home in the barn. He loved working with radios and stereos. If he was missing some part he would buy it abroad. Then he would sell it on to someone, and he realized that there was money to be made”, says Frøland. Some of the houses along the shore is decaying, old boathouses are falling apart and the local grocery store has closed the doors. Hatteland however, will always have its main offices located a couple of yards from his childhood home.

IT giant

Hatteland produces displays, computers and other computer products, as well as its own invention AutoStore, a complete inventory system with robots fetching the products. The company has 250 employees, a turnover of 1,1 billion NOK and 560 million NOK in equity.

“We have world patent on AutoStore and have sold 20 installations to different countries. There is an enormous potential, this will be the largest area of growth for us. We expect to double our turnover yearly from next year on, says President and Chief Executive Officer Hatteland Group, Karl Johan Lier .

Norwegian Technical Review`s readers voted AutoStore the Engineering achievement of the year in 2004 .

Role models

Managing Director in the Haugesund Region Business Association Egil Severeide praises the spirit of entrepreneurship in the Vindafjord neighborhood.

“They have manage to build one of the most viable local communities in the country. It is an adventure. Along the “golden mile” at the Ølensfjord the businesses have a turnover of five billion NOK every year. The companies are good at developing each other’s competence. They take responsibility for the small communities, ensuring that the schools are in good shape, building football pens. They are an integrated part of the local community. This area is a model for Norwegian small communities and the entrepreneurs have shown that you can succeed in the outskirts. The key is competence, audacity, simplicity and humility,” Severeide says.

5578 Nedre Vats and 5582 Ølensvåg are the outskirts villages where no one expected to find high tech companies producing for an international market. The competition for new engineers and other personnel is very hard.

“Is it hard to recruit qualified personnel for the companies

“We have to be better than our competitors to be able to run our business here. We have to give our clients another experience than a hotel room in a big city. We have a stable workforce and many have been recruited locally. We offer an exciting workplace with many opportunities for development”, Karl Johan Lier points out.

“We pay good and have a good welfare program. Employees receive points every month and for exercise. They can use their points on our company cabins in the mountain, in Gran Canaria, in Thailand, or use them on big city travel, concerts or football games. The employees can quickly make a career with us, and take on exciting assignments abroad if they want to. Norwegian workers are damn good. We looked at outsourcing in India and found that Norway was competitive despite the cost level. Norwegians takes responsibility and see the complete picture. In other countries people are good in their specific areas, but the final product is not as good as they don’t feel a total responsibility”, says Lunde.

Kåta Computers

Both Omega and Hatteland started out as small sales businesses. When the first computers appeared in the early 80s Sigmund Lunde was working at Haugesund Mekaniske Verksted. He saw the opportunity and founded Kåta Data, named after the area of his childhood home.

“The name was not ideal so I had to shorten it to K-Data”, Lunde laughs. “I was selling computers, but it didn`t go too well. The value of the inventory was halved every six months, the development went fast, better and faster computers came along. Locally there was not much interest in paying for the software I developed. Not until I got the oil companies involved, turnover started speeding up”, Lunde says.

The millennium hit Omega hard with a 40 per cent failing turnover. The oil price was reduced to 10 USD per barrel. “We thought everything would go wrong. Fortunately the negative development only lasted for one year, and ever since 2001 we have had 30 per cent growth every year”, Lunde says. He is now the company Chairman. Omega has got offices on several locations in Norway, in USA, Canada, Australia, Singapore, Lithuania, and the UK.

Heart attack

Few years ago Lunde had a heart attack in his car driving football girls to a match where he was going to be the referee. It took 7-8 minutes before paramedics got his heart starting again, he was close to dying.

“Only one out of twenty survive this kind of heart attack. It is a luxury waking up going to work every day, I am having so much fun. It would have been a disaster to stop now”, says Lunde, who has participated the London triathlon and loves running in the mountains, rowing and spending time in the wilderness. He could have sold his company shares and put a couple hundred million in the bank. But that is not the way he wants to spend his life.

Salute from Hatteland

Both the Hatteland group and Omega are now solid establishments and corner stone businesses. The entrepreneurs have taken one step back from the everyday administration. Jacob Hatteland is also chairman for his company. He has gotten more time for another hobby, making fireworks! Ever since the beginning in the barn, fireworks has been part of the business. Now he is producing his own fireworks and batteries near the fjord. Near the lake lies the barge which he every new year’s eve drag out into the fjord fully loaded with fireworks. People travel far to get to see the amazing light show in the sky.

Sigmund Lunde does not see anything in the future threatening the business. “Things have never looked this bright. The world needs energy. The companies require our management systems, which also can be converted for renewable energy, mining and other business. There will be enough for us to do in Ølensvåg, and it is really fun to succeed in a secluded fjord”, he says.

NHO Managing director impressed

“Pioneer entrepreneurs and pioneer communities”. Managing director Hallvard Ween of the Confederation of Norwegian Enterprise (NHO) in Rogaland county praises the business development in Vindafjord. Ween has followed the businesses for some time and is impressed by the results.

“They have a “we-can-do-it” attitude. When strong and passionate personalities want to do something, great values can be created anywhere. They refused to look at the outskirts as a disadvantage, but rather as an advantage”, Ween says. He also praises the local community who cheers them on.

“There is now envy here. The entrepreneurs show much care for the local communities by contributing to establish different offers for the residents. At the same time these key persons are unusually down to earth people with strong roots in the local community, but with a perspective beyond the national borders,” Ween says