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11.12.2012

Alv Bjørn Solheim: The values for the elite leagueInterview with Alv Bjørn Solheim, Head of Production Operations

"It was the values in the company that persuaded me to join", says Alv Bjørn Solheim, the new Head of Production Operations for Wintershall Norge.

With a deal just signed that should see the company take operatorship of its own production field for the first time, and the decision on how to develop the Maria find also scheduled for the first half of 2013, Alv has arrived at an exciting time. He will spearhead Wintershall Norge’s transition from an exploration-centric firm to a production operator that rubs shoulders with the biggest majors on the Norwegian Continental Shelf.

But he says if he didn’t believe in the values of being open, honest, responsible, and entrepreneurial, he would have remained at Statoil.
"I have to be in a company which has these kinds of values. If ever there is a problem within a company, you look to the values and they help you to find a solution," he says.

Just weeks into his new job, Alv already seems like a fixture, cheerfully padding the corridors and sharing intimate jokes with new colleagues at the Hinna Park headquarters in Stavanger. But he had no choice but to find his feet quickly. On the day he arrived at Wintershall, on October 1, he was immediately flown to London to help negotiate the biggest deal in Wintershall Norge’s history.

He also discovered that he would be negotiating with former colleagues from Statoil. "I have to admit that I was a little bit worried about seeing my old colleagues on the other side of the table," says Alv. The teams were finalising the deal which would see Wintershall acquire shares in the Gjøe (15%), Vega (30%) and Brage (32.7%) fields on the Norwegian Continental Shelf. Pending regulatory approval, Wintershall will also become operator on Brage. It will be the first time Wintershall Norge has operated its own field, and a huge step into what Alv calls "the elite league".

But, even with such a sensitive and important negotiation, he felt none of the awkwardness he feared he might when confronted with old colleagues. "I was really pleased with how professional the whole process was," he says. He remains an admirer of his old employer,
even likening the values which persuaded him to move to Wintershall, to the values he left behind at Statoil.

"They still develop great new technology. And it is a terrific company.
But inevitably when you grow to such a size, there is a growing bureaucracy. When I was considering Wintershall, it was the entrepreneurialism which really attracted me," he says.

In an earlier life, Alv was one of four partners who established a company in the telecoms and data industry, later selling it to Alcatel Telecom, and he has continued to search out entrepreneurial opportunities within companies in the oil and gas industry ever since.
At Amoco he helped to establish the first onshore simulator of a rig, and tapping into his data communications background, helped persuade Statoil to run fibre optic cables to its offshore installations.

He feels a similar sense of possibility at Wintershall Norge. The company still has plans to produce 50 000 barrels of oil equivalent per day from existing partner operated fields by 2015.

"Once you start producing more than 50 000 boe per day you are in a new league. People start treating you differently. We will be among the operators taking a really long view on the NCS," he says.

And though the Statoil deal meant divesting a 15% stake in the young Edvard Grieg field, Alv believes it was a necessary sacrifice. At the beginning of the journey to becoming a major operator on the NCS, with discoveries at Maria reaching development, and Skarfjell still ripe with possibilities, he forecasts Brage will bring the valuable experience necessary in making the leap into the "elite league."

"We are bringing production towards us," he says. "We are swapping  production in the long term for production in the short term. We are filling the gap between 2013 and our ambitions in 2015."

"This will give us a lot of experience for Skarfjell and Maria, and other future discoveries. We are jumping into being an operator and compared with being a partner that is a step change."

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