"I expect a boss who carries things through," said Arlid Olsen, the union steward for Store Norske's employees. "We've talked a lot, but not implemented enough."
There is relief at Store Norske now that the hunt for a new administrative director is over, but the workers are also hesitant. The union felt it was important the new top boss had a mining background. Ravlo visited her first coal mine in December of last year when she was in Mine 7.
"We basically wanted a person with a mining or entrepreneurial background, but among the candidates we had she was the one who emerged as the best," Olsen said. "For me she appears to be someone who carries things out, the curriculum characterized by her resume is good and that is exactly what we need."
A lot of needs
Ravlo, 49, is used to readjustments. She is a graduate in chemistry with postgraduate studies in management subjects. For the past 15 years she has held various positions at Norske Skog ASA, including director of the paper mill factory Norske Skog Follum in Guildford. In addition, she has been president of four factories at Elopak AS. She also has several board memberships.
Now she will become the first female administrative director of the coal company, a company in deep crisis. Store Norske ended 2014 with a record deficit. The deficit was almost one quarter of a billion kroner during the first nine months of last year and before Christmas the company had to lay off 95 employees. Furthermore, more workers may need to be downsized during the next few months. The company must in any case operate smarter.
"There are things I need to look at," Ravlo said in an interview with Svalbardposten. "I'm used to working with heavy industry, and I have worked with restructuring and change in that type of businesses."
What will happen first?
"During the initial period it will be particularly important to immerse myself in and become familiar with the operation and understand what is going on in the mines," she said. "I want to be entirely familiar with the operation and the employees."
'Pros and cons'
As the plant manager at Norske Skog Follum, Ravlo implemented a a major restructuring to try to save the factory. Seventy employees were let go and 400 were retained when the transition occurred in 2008. But she is not taking part in the process Store Norske has already started. The company's board of directors is scheduled to meet this month with its government-ownership agency, the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Fisheries, and the bank in an attempt to refinance the company and ensure it continues operating. The company has stated its cash reserves will be depleted during the first quarter of this year without help.
"The challenge is to find a way where we can run the company in a way that is sustainable while maintaining the role of a cornerstone company," Ravlo said.
How does she feel about the restructuring plan being submitted before she takes over?
There are pros and cons of it. Now it's like I'm in a job where the process is in progress, but I'm going to be in close contact with the board's chairperson," Ravlo said, adding she who believes there are many similarities with her former job and the one she is about to begin.
"Norske Skog has been and is a company in a market and an industry that is characterized by large transformations and change," she said. "They are both traditional cornerstone companies, processing companies and manufacturing companies."
Not setting the table
Ravlo said she is committed to working closely with Store Norske's union representatives. That is also the expectation of the union steward, who is issuing an invitation to work in close cooperation.
"We demand that, but it is as well an 'invitation,' as one says," Olsen said,
What does he think about the new director not being involved in the current restructuring process?
"She still has the opportunity to change the company in all kinds of directions. I would not say that the new director is coming to set the table," Olsen said, adding he believes it's been difficult to find a new leader for the company.
Annette Malm Justad, chairwoman of Store Norske's board of directors, has been the acting leader of the company since early December. She is not denying she is relieved a new leader has been selected.
"She has many things we deem important," Justad said. "She has no mining experience, but long industrial experience in processing industries, which is not so far away from what we do. And she has been in companies that have been in significant restructurings in many forms and has solved them with a good grip. This is a serious situation and it is important to get someone who is motivated to take on big challenges."
"I think that this will be extraordinary and I am looking forward to having Wenche in place. It is not natural that a chairperson should involve themselves in the depth as I have done now."
Translated by Mark Sabbatini