Jørn is a Norwegian citizen with international experience – from various geographies and cultures, i.e. more than 35 years of professional experience working and living in Germany, Asia and Scandinavia. Broad experience in the development, modification and restructuring of businesses, as well as expertise from expanding business through new ventures and acquisitions and subsequent integration processes. Extensive experience and knowledge in many different disciplines and business support functions. Knowledge and experience in building corporate cultures, brand and reputation.
Jørn is an M.Sc. graduate of Mannheim Business School, University of Mannheim, and he speaks Norwegian, English, German, Swedish and Danish.
From 1996 to 2000, you were the CEO of Winterthur Swiss Insurance (AXA), the first Licensed European insurance company in China. Can you describe the history and background during that time when you were in China? How was China doing with western countries and vice versa?
This was shortly after Deng Xiaoping’s opening of China in 1992. To speed up the transition to capitalism and the market economy, China was eager to attract direct foreign investment both to create jobs and also to learn from western know-how. As we see today, this has been a very successful strategy for China. Winterthur Swiss Insurance managed to become the first licensed company I intense competition with the German Allianz. Similar to the former monopoly countries in East Europe, In the finance and insurance sector, the local know-how was limited. Market economy and the competition was totally new to the Chinese people. So, apart from building our business, we were welcome to meet and discuss with authorities on all levels.
They were eager to learn from the west. We had many restrictions; however, they were lifted gradually as the local authority gained more confidence in how to regulate the industry. This was really the beginning and totally green land. We felt very welcome in China and Winterthur including the President of Winterthur, visited China several times a year to build good business relation and friendship.
I had the chance to meet with President Jiang Zeming, who was very open and friendly.
The Chinese people were very dynamic and open, especially the young people. Everyone seems optimistic about the future. Many people devote themselves to the industry, even the people from the government. I have also met many people from the government. They were interested to discuss anything, so sometimes I challenged them by asking question about the Jiang Zemin. But you know, I have full respect of Jiang. It is just a way to be closer them.
What are your impressions in China and Shanghai?
Before I moved to Shanghai, I lived for some years in Hong Kong. Therefore I was pretty acclimatised to Asian and Chines culture already. However, Shanghai is amazing. When I arrived in 1996 still old Shanghai with streets full of bicycles and small roads, Hangzhou old airport and Pudong was farmland. When I left 5 years later, no more bikes, Highways all over the city, heavy traffic and cars, and Pudong financial skyline district had been build and a top modern new Pudong airport. Shanghai and Shanghai people are incredibly dynamic, and indeed good business people and a clear target were to become the financial centre in Asia and ASAP overtake Hong Kong. I am very impressed and fascinated with the Shanghai culture. The rest of China is different, a different old world. During many trips to the province, I learned to appreciate the traditional Chinese culture with food, tee and friendship.
You must have local staffs there, how did you manage the local employee to your company? What are the differences between western employees and Chinese ones?
I quickly realised that people from the old school did have some difficulties in adapting to the market economy. I, therefore, employed younger staff. Extremely well educated, many with a foreign university degree, willing to learn fast, loyal and capable. Impressive working morale and attitude among the young Shanghainese.
As part of the training, they were also sent to HongKong and Switzerland to learn.
But there were conflicts of course. I remember we hired a university professor as our chief accountant. But it turned to be that he had no clue of accounting. We had to fire him, but you know, he was a proud person with good social stage. It was not a easy process to fire him, but I had to. We then hired a very smart young women as our CFO, who had a very successful career later.
Was there any other foreign insurance company before AXA? Was there any local insurance company? How did local insurance company react to AXA?
Yes, there was one American company AIA, which was established in Shanghai in the ’20s and had a new opening in 1992. Also a Japanese company. Tokyo Marine and Fire came to Shanghai in 1994 and Winterthur AXA in 1996. PICC was the leading local company; however, new local companies were established such as Ping An and others. We had a regular industry meeting together with the authorities to shape the insurance industry in China. Good communication and friendly competitors. We also had many visits in Switzerland from Chinese Insurance People and authorities to exchange know-how.
I also learned one thing in China through many meetings. There was always a guy from the party who kept quiet in the meeting, but did the meeting recording. I soon realiased that person is powerful.
Another interesting thing to mention, we all had to to a AIDS test after we arrived in China. So we went to a local facility there to do the test. The facility was kind of old, and I was a bit skepitical about their professonality. I guess people do not need that now.
Is AXA still operating China today?
AXA China is today the largest foreign Insurance company operating in China.
What was the whole process of establishing AXA China? What was the most challenging part? And where did you get help?
It was limited written laws and regulation for the insurance industry in 1996. Therefore it was essential to build good relation with the financial authorities both in Shanghai and Beijing. Regular meeting weekly and verbal guiding. A challenge compared to the regulated markets in Hong Kong and Europe. However, with the ability to build good relation, respect and trust with the Chinese people, we managed to build excellent cooperation with Chines insurance industry and the authorities. This was crucial. We were also closely followed by Media such as CNBC, Bloomberg, CCTV and Newspaper in Hong Kong and Europe.
From 1998 to 2003, Mr Zhu Rong Ji was the Premier of China. He implemented huge economic-financial reforms in China. What impacted your company among all these reforms? What do you think of his term? What is your opinion about his policy towards foreign companies?
China’s explosive transformation from a planned economy to a more market-oriented one over the past three decades owes much to the charismatic reformer Zhu Rongji. As China’s premier from 1998 to 2003, Zhu displayed pragmatism and strong work ethic that have been key forces in China’s drive to greater modernization and global stature, which did have a great impact on AXA’s start-up in China. I have a deep respect for Zhu Ring Ji, who I also had the pleasure to meet several times. He followed up the foreign investments in China, and he knew this was the success factor for the growth if China.
You have met a lot of Chinese government officials. Among them, who did you meet most? What kind of impressions did they give you?
Political leaders in Shanghai and Beijing were following the development of foreign investments. They wanted to experience first hand the development. Therefore I met city leaders, state leader and of course the management of People Bank of China regularly. The former Major of Shanghai Xu Kuangdi and Zu Rong Ji I met most and both are officials I deeply respect.
You are a member of the Economist Conferences China Advisory Group, what was that group? Who were in that group? Does it still exist?
Still exist in China under the name of the Economist Corporate Network Experts. Still, they organize meetings, examine critical operating issues, political changes and macroeconomic business developments affecting the region. Sessions cover country and industry-specific strategic management issues for senior executives—a time-effective way to keep updated on current issues and challenges and how to solve.
You have met Deng Rong several times, what was her role?
Deng Rong was the daughter of Deng Xiaoping. We all knew that. She was very active during that period. She was a very nice laday and helped us in many cases. As said before, the market was not well regulated that time, we were seeking guidance and advice on many challenging issues. Based on a good long relationship with Switzerland, we were lucky to some extent to seek advice during our start-up phase.
How do you see the development of insurance industry in China?
China is one of the biggest success stories in the history of insurance. Having survived some tumultuous times, the Chinese market is now one of the most exciting and important in the world.
Foreign insurers continue to provide valuable expertise as well as access to a worldwide insurance and reinsurance safety net. However, China’s recent success is largely down to the achievements of its domestic insurance sector.
The Chinese insurance market has proved extraordinarily resilient and, in recent years, incredibly fast-growing. It is currently on course to become the world’s second-largest insurance market behind the US.
China began the herculean task of rebuilding its insurance market in the 1970s, initially through the state insurer, the People’s Insurance Company of China. Following market liberalisation, and with the active encouragement of the government, the Chinese insurance sector has blossomed into a vigorous and competitive marketplace. Insurance is now seen as a key pillar supporting economic and social development and growth in agriculture, industry and the infrastructure, as well as mitigating the impact of natural disasters and providing welfare protection. The increasing impact of natural disasters and an ageing population are emerging issues for China. However, being part of the international insurance and reinsurance safety net will help make China more resilient and more capable of meeting the risks of tomorrow.
What do you see the differences between the insurance industry in China and Europe?
Up until the early 1980s, China market was different than Europe. The PICC was the only insurance company operating in China. The monopoly enjoyed by the PICC came to an end when Ping An Insurance Company of China, a new domestic insurer, gained regulatory approval and was established in 1988. It was soon followed by other new players, including AIG and Winterthur AXA in 1992 and 1994. By the beginning of the 21st century, the insurance market in China had reached a turning point. With some difficult days behind it, the insurance industry was on a firm footing and looking to unleash its true potential. Joining the World Trade Organization provided the opportunity to accelerate regulatory and market modernisation and open the sector up to the foreign competition. China’s insurers were more than a match for this and continue to go from strength to strength as the market becomes increasingly sophisticated. Today China is part of the international insurance community and operate insurance as we do in Europe or the USA.
Anything that you will never forget in China?
There are many things. Generally, I will say the friendliness and trust we had with the Chinese people. We felt very welcome. Experiencing The fast development of especially Shanghai and Pudong I observed every day in the most speedy change of a city in human history. This dynamic and willing to move on is amazing. And will never forget. I am thankful I could take part in this development.
Which part of China have you been to?
I am privilege to have been all over China and visited the country and provinces with all they have to offer, spectacular nature, history and culture, tea traditions, food and always meeting guest friendly people.
How often do you visit China after you move back to Norway? What differences do you observe since that?
I visit China regularly keeping up with old connections and network. I have mostly been to Shanghai and Beijing during my visits. The growth and development are amazing and I observe that the cities are changing dramatically and er more and more similar to any other Metropol in the world such as London or New Youk. People I observe are also changing from being humble and very focused on learning and know-how transfer in the ’90s to currently becoming more self-confident and proud being world leaders in many industries and areas. This success naturally also change people.
What do you see from China today?
I see the second-largest economy in the world, confident and has already grown to become a superpower like the US, very different what I experienced 20 years ago.
From 2001 to 2004, you moved to Hongkong and worked as AXA Asia CEO.Hongkong was handed back to China in 1997, and you have attended the ceremony of Hand-over. How was the situation when you were there from a westerner’s perspective? How did business society in Hongkong react to it?
Yes, I attended the handover ceremony in Hong Kong 1. July 1997 with Jiang Zemin and Price Charles attending. Impressive and nice ceremony according to the agreement between the UK and China. In fact, as a businessman I Hong Kong, we did not really experience any big changes, business as usual which was in agreement that Hong Kong should live as is for the next 50 years at least. That seemed to work out very well at that time.
Before 1997, there was a short period when HongKong people were not confident about the future, but that was just a short time. Through the whole 90s, people saw China opening more and more, and people started to think “maybe we do not have to be afraid of China”.
One thing however I still remember. Before 1997, Christopher Francis Patten used to attend our May 17 celebration in Hong Kong. You know, UK and Norway had quite good relationships sinced the second war. And he actually made a toast to the then King Olav. After 1997, Dong Jianhua came as well, but it was a bit weird. I think he just wanted to show that everything will be the same. The he stopped coming. That was the most different thing I can think out, otherwise, business as usual.
How do you see Hong Kong in recent years?
While very few would deny that China has done an exceptional job of lifting millions of people out of poverty in the last four decades with its unique political and economic model, now may be the right time for the Chinese leadership to revisit its foreign policy as it tries to benefit from the shift in the balance of power.
Unfortunately, its recent foreign policy are considered as aggressive by the western. We have seen the perception of China dive to its lowest level in decades in countries such as the United States, Canada, Australia and India, and also its relationship with Britain and European Union is stuttering.
So it is such a pity, really a pity to see this.
As a formal entrepreneur in China, I had the chance to be part of the most successful period in this country. I do hope China can continue its success in the future.
So I think China should continue to increase transparency and also listen to the concerns of others.I do not think the western is willing to see a hostile China. Actually China was accepted to the many global organizations such as WTO. Of course, it has to be mutual, the western should also understand China’s interest.
You moved back to Norway in 2005, still worked in AXA. So,Why did you make the decision to move back to Norway?
After 20 years of living abroad in Germany and Asia, my kids needed to find their Norwegian identity, especially they were all born abroad. It was time to start a new phase in our life. Mainly also to let my children learn another side of life, not only living as an expatriate in Metropoles like Hong Kong and Shanghai.
You also own Vormnes , is it part of your investment or it is your hobby of farming?
This was a project after coming home to Norway after 20 years abroad. I would try to something else and let my children experience other sides of life than Big Cities. It was a kind of Hobby too. I and my partner started a new Insurance company called Saga Insurance Which was sold to Vardia Insurance Group in Jan.2014. Vardia is on Oslo Stock Exchange.
What is your job now? You founded an insurance company before, and then it was bought, can you share that experience with us?
I am now working as Special Advisor in Invest in Norway which is the official investment promotion agency of Norway administered by Innovation Norway. We offer a wide range of services and extensive network to help foreign companies establish and run their business in Norway. We are seeking direct foreign investment including China. Industries opportunities consist of data center, battery manufacturing, green energy, life science, ocean tec, digitalization, tourism.
You are from Conservative Party (Høyre), was party leader of Nes county, Akershus and was on the list of Parliamentary Election in 2009. You have cooperation with the neighboring counties especially with Eidsvoll county which Tone Trøen was the leader and now she is the president of Norwegian Parliament. Why did you choose Høyre? How much were you involved with Høyre?
Because that is the party, I agree most and I identify myself with its principles. Høyre pursues a conservative, progressive policy based on Christian cultural values, constitutional government and democracy to promote personal freedom and social responsibility, co-determination and ownership rights, and a binding commitment to national and international cooperation.
How do you review the achievements, political policies from Erna and Høyre for the past 7 years?
Luckily they were reelected and can continue to modernize Norway and secure a better future for Norway people. Sustainable development, education, infrastructure and have prepared Norway to meet the green future in a sustainable way. Høyre and Erna have tackled to crises exceptionally well, the oil crises and the recent pandemic. Still, work to do; however, Erna and Høyre is the best leadership for Norway.
We have seen a couple government crisis and chaos in Norway, from Listhuag to Wara, from ISIS women fighter to Trine Grande resigning, from the bompenger quarrel to climate change issue, what are your views on each of them?
In a democracy, cooperation is needed to manage the country. Not always they agree, and then some disagreement will arise. However, Erna, like Merckel in Germany, is steady looking forward and focusing on long term goals for Norway. Will always be discussions and disagreement in a democracy, however important to steer steady and not let these disagreement disturb too much.
Frp left the cabin, what is the political calculation behind it, from your point of view?
They left apparently because of some refugee issues. However, I believe the reason was the lost voters and needed to focus on the next election. They believe they can market their policy better not being part of Høyres regjering.
What would the biggest problem in Norway, both in politics and economics?
Norway is a small country and is very dependent on having a good relationship and support from the world community. EU is very important for Norway, and I would like Norway to join the EU ASAP. Economically Norway is rich due to Oil, Gas and Fish. The challenge for the economy is to develop new export industries outside the oil and gas sector. Norway has a high education level, is focusing on the green economy and sustainable future.
What are your comments on the COVID 19 crisis in Norway? Government actions, people’s reaction, media coverage?
I believe Høyre and Norway have managed this crisis exceptionally good. Understood early how serious this pandemic could be, took immediate action which has placed Norway among the best countries in the world handling this crisis.
Norway just won a seat at UN security council. Why is Norway so interested in being in that position? And we see Norwegian politicians in other international organization, in general why Norway want that? Traditionally, doesn’t Norway just want to leave its own good business and life? Does Norway have so much interest in the world? Or it just because Norway wants more influence? Norway also offers a lot of support, 1% of GDP, which it offers. Why?
It is some kind of historical reasons. Basically, Norway wants to show solidarity and friendship with the world. Norway wanted to be neutral during world war 2. However, both Germany and England wanted Norway as allied due to its Atlantic coast and natural resources as iron. Therefore Norway was forced into world war 2 and Germany won this battle in the first run. Norway never wanted to be involved like Sweden and Switzerland. So after the war, Norway was already part of world politics and had to choose a side, luckily the western side and not communist Europe. Trygve Lie, the first Secretary-General of the United Nations 1946–1953 was a Norwegian and probably one reason why Norway feel obliged to contribute to world peace, although we are a tiny little country close to the north pole. The Security Council chamber was designed by a Norwegian architect, Arnstein Arneberg, and most of the furnishings are a gift from the Norwegian Government. The Norwegian decor of the room reflects the Council’s purpose: to maintain the world in a state of peace. The first UN Secretary-General, Trygve Lie of Norway, was influential when the decision was made.
Norway is one of the richest countries in the world, thanks to natural resources and good and fair management of wealth. Norway is always striving to keep true democracy and believe this is the best system of today to secure freedom, prosperity and life quality of its citizens. So, due to its lucky fortune, Norway believes it should contribute to a better world by support United Nation and to be generous in respect of developing countries.
China is still a developing country according to the OECD and is below the world average for GDP per capita. China is number 85 on the UN’s human development index and faces major demographic, environmental, social and democratic challenges, which also contribute to regional and global development problems according to OECD. However, China is the world’s most populous country and is about to overtake the United States as the world’s largest economy. Despite this, Norway has in the period between 2013 and 2018 contributed NOK 607 million in developing assistance to China. Well, is it right or wrong?
Traditionally, doesn’t Norway just want to live its own good business and life?
Norway was very active after world war to contribyte to UN. Norway is a small country, an export-oriented economy, and know very well that we are dependent on an open world economy. Therefore Norway only follows its own interest to be an active part of the world economy and secure its trade possibilities in the world. Part of this game is also for Norway to involve in world politics and handle the challenges in this area.
US is a strong ally of Norway, what is Norway’s position now between the US and China? What do you think would Norway do if a new cold war against China is coming?
Norway Security is best safeguarded through close international cooperation and good relation with all our neighbouring countries and other strategic countries like China. However, Norway has made clear that membership of Nato is the central element of our foreign policy and security policy. US as the biggest country in NATO alliance has been the security guarantee for Norway since 1949 and will remain like that in the future.