Kjetel Digre took the helm at a pivotal moment in Aker Solutions’ 180-year history.
Chief executive since August 2020, the Norwegian says the new Aker Solutions has a clear growth ambition — growth that will be dominated by its activities in renewables and low-carbon solutions for oil and gas projects.
One-third of revenues in 2025 will come from these two market segments, increasing to two-thirds just five years later.
Achieving this ambition will not be without its technical challenges, Digre admits, and in tandem with this goal, Aker Solutions will halve the carbon footprint of its own operations by 2030.
“We have to work differently, both internally and with our customers. In the end, that is based on more openness, collaboration and the digital solutions,” he says.
He believes 2020 was a turning point: the company realised that it — along with much of the oil and gas industry — was in transformation mode.
“We have politicians that are setting the direction and the capital markets are responding,” he says. “All forces are pointing in the right direction for us.”
The contractor is seeking “the right balance between oil and gas and renewables. We have that clearly on our agenda, in our strategy.”
Hydrocarbons will remain a core part of Aker Solutions’ future even as it continues its journey into renewables and hydrogen.
The company has a “very exciting global footprint”, and understanding its relationships in different regions is important to Digre, who appreciates that its business today remains “dominated” by projects on the Norwegian Continental Shelf and by Norwegian customers.
He expects Norway will continue to be an important oil and gas arena for Aker Solutions, not least because of the government’s temporary tax incentives in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.
“We see that [oil and gas activity in] Brazil and South America is picking up and also in selected areas in Asia Pacific. Also, on the west coast of Africa... we are in dialogue with our key customers there,” he says.
“In terms of renewables, we see acceleration in the Nordics. [The] UK and US also have a lot of interesting opportunities.”
Digre, who holds an MSc with distinction in subsea and petroleum engineering from Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh, admits to being “very humbled” to be in his position, especially as the contractor has 15,000 employees around the globe.
He has extensive experience in the oil and gas industry, most recently in Aker BP as senior vice president, operations and asset development.
He also spent 25 years at Equinor (formerly Statoil), where he held several positions within project execution and field development, including project director for the Johan Sverdrup field.
“Being on this journey, with all the opportunities of getting new competencies and growing into new areas, more and more my thinking and my focus is about: How do we do this for our people? And how do we find the right talents, finding the ones that have a lot of energy to take on these new roles?”
Digre believes that being in harmony with his colleagues is key to success in the workplace, and spending a quarter of a century with the Norwegian state-controlled oil company helped shape his management style.
At Statoil, he says, “there were challenges fairly rapidly coming at me, and the way I chose to solve them was to really look at the organisation and the people around me".
“I needed to not only see them in their professional life... I needed to understand their mindset and thinking when they are engaged in other topics.”
Spending time with colleagues, discussing issues and walking through scenarios together is equally beneficial at his new job.
“You have to embrace and value the feedback and, as a Norwegian, I really want to do that with respect.”
While clearly a hands-on boss who is prepared to go the extra mile to spend time engaging with the employees worldwide, he also values his time away from the proverbial coalface.
“2020 showed that we can work anywhere, and I guess more and more of us are doing that now,” he says.
“I think that points at a focus area, and sometimes a dilemma. We need to be mindful of our work-life balance. I’m conscious about it and I want leaders around me to also be conscious about that balance.
“I think we become better versions of ourselves if we are really using both our minds and bodies to do something more than our professional tasks.”
Digre devotes most of his spare time to his wife and close family. He has three sons in different stages of their education, with whom he spends a lot of time, albeit sometimes remotely when work takes him away from home.
“When we are together, we spend that [time] doing my favourite activities,” he says.
“In wintertime, that is cross-country skiing in the mountains, and in the summertime, it is about being in the forest with my family and my dog, either running or hiking.
“I’m really conscious about that [work-life] balance... it gives me a lot of energy.”