"We have at times lacked heavy mining experience in the leaders at Store Norske," said Arild Olsen, the union representative for workers at Store Norske and the leader of Longyearbyen's labor union. "Therefore, we are at a critical point, given the current top two positions to be filled."
Administrative Director Per Andersson told Store Norske's board of directors in June he is leaving the job. Meanwhile, the company has for some time been seeking a new mining director since Acting Mining Director Martin Östling and his consulting firm C2U are scheduled to end their work for Store Norske this fall.
Olsen said the two positions must be seen as connected so the two new hires complement each other.
"Familiarity with mining or quarrying operations are an obvious advantage for a new director. At the same time it is natural that a mine manager has more technical expertise than the general manager," said Olsen, who pointed out he has not discussed the matter with the company's board since word of Andersson's departure came as summer holidays at the company were beginning.
Are there any respectable internal candidates?
"Not for the director position, as I see it," Olsen said. "But a mine manager is definitely possible to find internally, provided those who are qualified are interested. There are several who have the necessary knowledge, but it is an extremely tough position, perhaps the most important position, I would say."
Change of direction
In an interview with Svalbardposten last week, Andersson admitted the timing of his departure is unfortunate. The labor union leader said he agrees.
"I think it is unfortunate to replace the director in the midst of a tough time, because you may get an unexpected change of direction," Olsen said. "You know what you have to work with, but not what you are getting. At the same time, no one is irreplaceable."
He said he is not worried about the daily operations in the time ahead.
"There we can find a good replacement, yes, even one that is better," Olsen said. "But Andersson has been the driving force behind a number of future projects and business areas. I'm worried that no one will pick up the ball when he disappears.
Longyearbyen Mayor Christin Kristoffersen said she wants a new director who sees the importance of working with the scientific community in Svalbard on new projects. Olsen said he agrees, but he thinks it is just as important to be a master of parliamentary politics and public opinion.
"He must have political acumen and understand the game," Olsen said. "Store Norske is clearly a political enterprise."
Regarding the reference to "he," what does Olsen think about the possibility of a female director?
"Yes, absolutely - if that's the best applicant," Olsen said. "But when we ask for a combination of mining experience, political acumen and HMS focus, I'm afraid the list of women who have such expertise is shorter than for men."
When Andersson departs Jan. 1, he will have served three years in the top position. During these years he has, among other things, downsized the company by 70 people last year.
Tousling of the hair
What kind of legacy will Andersson have among the mine workers?
"Any director at Store Norske is controversial, and in particular a director who has directed the large restructuring that Andersson has done," Olsen said. "It is accurate to say that everyone has had a little more tousling of the hair during his time."
Does he expect a new director will have a longer horizon than three years?
"Every manager has their own style and there is a limit to how many changes in processes employees can handle every three years," Olsen said. "One can agree or disagree with the changes that have been made, but the best is some form of stability going forward."