A touch of elegance and aristocracy instantly collides with the timing and playfulness of the rough silver tongue, forged in the post-war Bergen rain. His mother from a wealthy family of entrepreneurs who built a famous sand company in the thirties and his father a shipowner, Sjur Storaas was presumably born into privilege and opportunity in 1953. Just in time to see both family businesses fall apart in short succession.
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While his family largely kept the façade and their habits intact, Sjur socialized and found friendships on the streets of Bergen with an impartial view on class and background. At home he acquired the etiquette and cultural capital of haute bourgeoisie, while learning the direct and uncompromising working-class jargon among his friends and at school.
“Sailing. Boats. The Ocean!”
Though most of the family fortune was gone, they still had their country estates at their disposal at both Hjellestad and Austevoll, and summers were largely spent on or near the ocean. This should become one of the main stimuli in Sjur’s decision to move to Trondheim to start his education:
-Sailing. Boats. The ocean. I was almost obsessed with it. Rumors told that at NTH (Norwegian Technical University / now NTNU) had a vibrant environment and even a
sailboat and an old vintage wooden boat at the student’s free disposal. So, I decided to become a Marine Engineer and moved to Trondheim in the summer of 1973, Sjur Storaas tells.
In Trondheim Sjur enjoyed the social aspects and was both head of the local fraternity and the school’s male choir, ironically named The Foghorn. He also met his wife to be, Bitten.
But it was a guest lecture from a German professor that should pave the way for his legacy at NTH. The lecture focused on the element Manganese (Mn) in the Periodic Table and how the seabed contains approximately 500 million tons of this valuable mineral. Sjur was instantly inspired and later that year submitted a project assignment on deep-water mining for manganese nodules. He defended his assignment with such enthusiasm and conviction that it earned him the everlasting nickname in the class of 77 – The Manganese Nodule.
Through a ship-owner in Oslo, Sjur Storaas was put in contact with the multinational Lockheed Corporation who decided to offer him a job at their California premises to continue his research on mining of manganese nodules. Sjur was, of course, both flattered and interested in moving to the US, but after some time declined, humorously stating:
-Bitten put her foot down and said no. She was concerned about the earthquakes, he laughs.
A career emerges
Sjur started his professional career at Aker in Oslo where he first encountered Bernhard Larsen, a self-made entrepreneur and visionary man who played a vital role in the establishing of Odfjell Drilling and later the development of the Aker H-3 rig, one of the first semi-submersible rigs to operate on the Norwegian Continental Shelf. Sjur joined the development team for the Aker H-3.2, a third-generation semi-submersible that still operates in the North Sea.
His interest in mechanical engineering and industrial design innovation was blooming and with the 1980s right around the corner, he and his wife decided to move to Bergen and start a family.
In Bergen, Sjur had a short stint at BMV Engineering before he joined newly established Bergen Engineering, a company specialized in structural analysis, in 1980, unknowing of the fact that the next years of his professional life would circle around the worst accident in Norwegian offshore history.
Alexander L. Kielland, named after the Norwegian writer, was originally constructed as a drilling platform but was modified to serve as living-quarter at the Ekofisk field. In the evening of March 27th, 1980, the platform capsized after one of its legs broke off in rough waters.
Only 89 of the total crew of 212 were saved in an extremely challenging rescue operation. Cold waters, rough winds and limited visibility made the conditions almost impossible for helicopters and vessels in the area.
In April 1980 the platform was towed to Kårstø in Rogaland and later to Stavanger. An operation to turn the platform failed and was aborted later that year due to technical problems.
In 1982, authorities decided on a second attempt to turn the platform. Sjur Storaas remembers this period clearly:
-The accident had left scars on both the nation and the industry, and it was both an emotional matter and politically delicate matter. Bergen Engineering was handed the contract concerning the procedural work and planning of the turnaround.
-I remember standing on the giant barges in Gandsfjorden in 1983 prior to the operation. To say that it left an impression would be an understatement, Sjur says.
From engineering cluster to political lobbyism
In the early 90s, Sjur Storaas’ career rocketed, and a hidden talent suddenly surfaced. Lobbyism. He had advanced to become Deputy Managing Director at Bergen Engineering before he left and co-founded Sandsli Engineering in 1990. Sandsli Engineering was at the time part of a cluster of growing engineering and service providers, who later was merged into now renowned companies like Aker Engineering, Framo Engineering, FMC and Aibel.
-The early 90s was probably a breaking point for emerging engineering businesses towards the oil & gas industry in the Bergen area. Now it was blooming, with entrepreneurs and doers, realizing the potential for local industrial and economic growth. It was an awakening, Sjur states enthusiastically.
In 1992 Sjur was headhunted by Kværner Concrete Construction (KCC) for the position as Vice President. His first objective was to win the contract for construction of the Troll B platform, and he and the Kværner management group laid their eyes on the desolate shipyard Hanøytangen in the archipelago outside Bergen.
Now began a hectic period of revitalizing the yard and simultaneously working towards both local and state authorities to move the decision in the right direction. A deep-water dock was built on site and two giant barges was bought to further strengthen the yard’s ability to conduct construction and assembly of giant offshore modules. While overseeing the development of the yard, Sjur had daily meetings and phone calls with Norway’s largest labor organization (LO), the local chamber of commerce and industry, local politicians and even the prime minister of Norway, occasionally.
Luckily, the contract was won, and the Troll B platform was commissioned on September 19th, 1995.
-It was the single largest contract in the Kværner history, worth over 3 billion Norwegian Kroner at the time. But it was not only an industrial victory, it was a political victory. Probably the highlight of my professional career. We left a legacy and I would estimate that what we started there has created more than 2000 jobs in the wake of Troll B, Sjur Storaas states proudly.
Indonesia offer and an old acquaintance returns
Sjur Storaas was now truly a rising star in the Kværner system, and early 1996 an unexpected opportunity materialized:
–I had this phone call, Sjur pauses, then laughs shortly before he continues:
-The Kværner management wanted me to board a plane to Indonesia. Immediately. “Your tickets are ready. Bring your family. We have a house waiting for you. A driver. Servants. We need you to be our man on the ground in Jakarta”, Sjur says while vividly playing out the phone call as he remembers it.
-But Bitten said no. Again. She refused. It was out of the question, says Sjur, with a playful smile, before offering a more serious contemplation:
-Maybe it would have been an adventure. But Indonesia was under the highly dubious Suharto regime. Promoting Norwegian interests in such a climate, – he pauses – maybe it was for the better that we stayed out of it.
-In many ways this decision ended my career at Kværner. If you turn down the wishes of the management, you are done. And at the same time, concrete platforms had a downturn after Asian FPSOs entered the market, he says.
Sjur stayed at Kværner until 1997 when he again was approached by the legend, Bernhard Larsen. Larsen, whom Sjur describes as an autodidact, had been impressed with Sjur’s accomplishments at Hanøytangen and wanted him as CEO of the Coast Center Base (CCB) at Ågotnes, owned 50/50 between Larsen himself and Statoil (Equinor).
-I had a couple of great years at CCB. We specialized in yard stays for rigs, developed a dedicated subsea maintenance program and updated the cargo facilities. We even expanded the business by acquiring a base in Sandnessjøen in Northern-Norway. I was also able to focus on political aspects of commercial and industrial development of the region during these years.
Moon landings and political shipwrecks
In the years prior to the new millennium, one case stood out in the Norwegian industrial and political landscape. The Royal Norwegian Navy’s forthcoming decision on who should get the contract for the construction of six new frigates. Kværner again turned to Sjur Storaas.
-Kværner was part of an alliance, including Umoe Sterkoder, Kongsberg and themselves, named the Norescort Group. It sounded like something completely different, but that is another story, Storaas remarks with his usual sense of understated humor, before he continues:
-They wanted med to use my network and lobbying skills to influence the decision makers. At the time, five serious bidders were competing, and the Norescort management was almost certain that we would reach the final round of three bidders.
-But times had changed. In my view, at least. It did not feel as if local, even Norwegian, industrial interest was at the heart of the decision makers at all. It was all cost, and the winners, Spanish Bazan, was highly subsidized. Bazan also failed to deliver on both time and cost. It was a mess. If Hanøytangen and Troll B was the highlight of my career, the frigates tendering process was a clear low-point, Sjur admits and moves on.
Sjur became CEO of Bertel O. Steen Teknikk AS in 2000 and stayed in the position for five years. In 2005, Sjur was contacted by former CEO of Statoil (Equinor), Jakob Bleie, who wanted him as Managing Director for a membership organization named Hordaland Oil & Gas (HOG).
Sjur was again back in his true element, promoting regional industry at a time when liquified natural gas (LNG) emerged as an increasingly profitable business and the activity at the Mongstad base, north of Bergen, increased each year. He was involved in the launch of GCE Ocean Technologies and an incubator fund for startups. But another period of political turmoil was about to inflict on Sjur Storaas’ career.
Some background is needed to cover the full picture: Since 2000, gas driven power plants had been a subject of much political controversy in Norway, when Kjell Magne Bondevik’s government resigned after losing the parliament vote on building a powerplant at Kårstø in Rogaland.
In 2005, Statoil (Equinor) launched their plan to build a gas driven powerplant at Mongstad. Sjur and HOG lobbied in the shadows to promote the project, including plans for a CCS (carbon capture & storage) facility. The project was passed through the parliament in 2006.
In 2007, prime minister Jens Stoltenberg stated that building a full-scale CCS facility at the power plant at Mongstad within ten years was Norway’s equivalent of the moon landing.
Sjur Storaas and HOG further played a role in facilitating the establishing of Technology Center Mongstad (TCM Mongstad), the world’s largest test center for increased effectiveness and technology development for CCS, funded by the Norwegian State, Statoil (Equinor), Shell and Total.
-The ambitions were promptly stated, but the Kennedyesque words came back to bite Mr. Stoltenberg, Sjur says laconically.
The Norwegian State kept funding the CCS project, but the construction was never started and ten years later, the debate had faded away. TCM Mongstad was officially commissioned in 2012, two years behind schedule, but by then, Sjur Storaas had left HOG.
Two entrepreneurs and the nodule resurface
After 4 years at HOG, Sjur Storaas worked as a head-hunter, professional board-member, and again, promoting regional industrial and educational interests. In 2010, the Larsen-family again entered the picture. Bernhard Larsen’s son, Berge Gerdt Larsen, a Bergen based oil and rig entrepreneur, described both as an eccentric and brilliant businessman, offered Sjur a place at the Petrolia SE board of directors. Petrolia SE operates within E&P and Oil Service. In 2016, Sjur also joined the board of directors at Petrolia NOCO, an independent oil & gas company approved as a licensee and operator on the Norwegian Continental Shelf.
Back in 2011, Sjur Storaas met Morten Leikvoll for the first time:
-I was working both as a quasi-political advisor and with executive search on behalf clients when I met Morten in 2011. He was energetic and optimistic as ever over his newly founded company, Head Energy. I felt it was time to step back from lobbyism and politics and felt encouraged by the vigor and vision at Head Energy. So, in January 2012 I joined, Sjur Storaas says.
-It is quite impressive, what the company has achieved in merely ten years. From a Bergen based consulting company to a Scandinavian engineering and technology group. A lot of fine people. Creators. I think we are heading towards another exciting ten-year period, focusing on electrification, renewables and infrastructure, he says.
Asked if there is anything he would like to add, Sjur thinks for a minute, almost drifting away through the years, the people he has encountered and the projects he has either seen succeed or fail. Brought back in an instant, he says with firm voice:
-Norway is now leading the pack in development of tangible solutions for CCS. The test center at Mongstad is fully booked until 2022. It took longer than we expected, but this is real movement. That is pretty amazing. He pauses again.
-Oh. And the manganese nodules. It is actually happening now. Pioneer excavations in the Pacific Ocean, 40 years after my assignment at NTH. That is something, Sjur concludes with his rusty but hearty laughter.
Manganese nodules, also referred to as polymetallic nodules, consists of iron and manganese hydroxides around a core.
Varies in size from 3 to 20 centimeters.
Largest deposit in the north central Pacific Ocean, with approximately over 21 billion tons, on a depth of 4000 to 6000 meters.