* Left school as a teenager, became a billionaire
* Heads Norway's biggest private industrial group
* Says he suffers from "gigantomania"
By Gwladys Fouche and Joachim Dagenborg
OSLO, June 8 He is the self-made man who changed
the way business was done in Norway, and from this week, Kjell
Inge Roekke, a flamboyant billionaire with an explosive temper
and a taste for the supersized, can also call himself an oil
His company Det norske, hitherto a rather modest
oil explorer, paid $2.1 billion in cash to bag Marathon Oil's
Norwegian business, turning it into the Nordic country's
second-largest oil producer behind Statoil.
It is deals such as this that have turned Roekke, 55, into
one of Norway's richest men, and turned his holding company,
Aker ASA, into the country's largest private
industrial group, with controlling stakes in Det norske, oil
services firm Aker Solutions, heavy equipment maker
Kvaerner, plus shippers and fisheries.
It has been a precipitous climb. Born in Molde, a small town
on Norway's west coat, he left high school a dyslexic teenager
with no qualifications and crossed the Atlantic to become a
fisherman, catching pollock and crab from a base in Seattle.
He invested in a number of old boats, modified them into
advanced factory trawlers, and so built his fortune. In the
early 90s, he came back to Norway to shake up its sedate
Roekke and a partner set their sights on one of Norway's
venerable conglomerates, 173-year-old Aker, quickly bought up 40
percent of its shares in 1996, and merged it with their own
Resources Group International, before snapping up Kvaerner four
"He was the first one to bring American-style, aggressive
capitalism to Norway, daring to use shareholder power to get
what he wanted," said Steinar Dyrnes, a journalist at the
Aftenposten daily who wrote a biography of Roekke.
"This was quite unheard of in Norway at the time," he said.
When Roekke seized Aker, many feared he would act like a
corporate raider, gutting the company for cash. But that was not
what drove him, then or now, his business associates say.
"He has shown quite the opposite," said Erik Haugane, a
former chief executive at Det norske. "He has shown he thinks
about the long-term when he makes investments and buys firms."
"He is a builder," said Kristin Krohn Devold, a former
defence minister who sits on the Aker board with Roekke. "He
gets a kick out of building things ... He loves building
companies up, building industries, finding new products."
In a protestant, social-democratic country where
egalitarianism trumps materialism, Roekke made waves with his
glamorous girlfriends, private jet and flashy homes. There was
even a pop song written about the heady mix of his business and
His enduring passion is for boats of all shapes and sizes -
but mostly large; he built the world's biggest fishing trawler
and has made headlines with an ostentatious $90 million yacht,
and a 217-foot sailboat. And for crashing in a speedboat race.
In 2007, he was convicted of bribing his way to a boat
operating licence and served 23 days in prison. Even there the
charismatic Roekke was something of a hit, and upon his release
spent more than $3,000 on takeaway pizzas for his old cellmates.
"Roekke is an emotional person and he can express his
emotions very strongly," said Dyrnes. "This means that he is
often very charming and friendly. But there is another side. He
can be very angry ... which is very un-Norwegian."
"The first time you experience his anger, it can be a bit of
a shock," said Haugane, the former Det norske CEO. "You are
thinking, 'What on earth is going on?' But then it passes. And
the second and third time it happens, it is not as bad."
In 2009, the target of his anger was Industry Minister
Sylvia Brustad, who claimed Roekke had bought and sold assets in
a way that benefited himself but not other Aker Solutions
shareholders, which include the government.
He hit back at a live news conference, claiming Brustad had
got her facts wrong. The broadcast, which went on for hours,
also turned personal, taking a swipe at her rural dialect.
And yet four years later she was hired by one of Roekke's
companies to manage relations with the government.
"His strength is in coming up with lots of new, strategic
ideas. But he needs someone to tell him which ones of his ideas
are smart and which ones are not," said Dyrnes, the biographer.
At Aker, the man who helps him decide which ideas will work
is chief executive Oeyvind Eriksen.
"It is true that we have complementary skills. We have a
unique collaboration and relationship," said Eriksen.
Not all of Roekke's decisions look smart. In 1997 he bought
into London's Wimbledon Football Club and later decided to
relocate it to Milton Keynes, 55 miles (90km) north of its
traditional home, an act of treachery to its fans. Record low
crowds and poor results on the field sent the club into
These days Roekke, who tends to decline media requests for
interviews, communicates mostly through his letters to
shareholders, published in Aker's annual reports.
In a letter published in the 2011 report, he admitted a
penchant for the unusually and superfluously large.
"(My wife) Anne Grete is totally right when she says I
suffer from an incurable disease: gigantomania. She has tried to
cure me, but given up," he wrote.
"We had agreed to build a sailboat of 66. Anne Grete meant
66 feet; naturally, I was thinking in metres. It ended up at 66
He declined to say if he had giant plans for Det norske's
new oil acquisition, but others in the company have said it will
help finance development of its share of the $20 billion Johan
Sverdrup oilfield in the North Sea - the biggest oil find off
Norway in decades.
(Additional reporting by Terje Solsvik; Editing by Will