For this month’s member spotlight, NACC MA sat down with Mr. Vidar Skjelstad from KONGSBERG to talk about the company’s mission and ambitions, as well as KONGSBERG’s 200th year anniversary and its relationship with NACC MA.
KONGSBERG is an international knowledge-based group that supplies high-technology systems and solutions to customers in the oil and gas industry, the merchant marine, and the defense and aerospace industries. Their products, ranging from offshore supplies used in the deepest oceans to satellites used in space, all have the same mission – to support their customers in extreme environments and with extreme performances.
KONGSBERG, founded in 1814, is sharing its 200 year anniversary with the Norwegian Constitution this year. The founding of KONGSBERG and the writing and ratification of the Norwegian constitution are strongly connected. The establishment of Norway’s own weapons factory gave Norway an industrial platform to build upon and was important in the transition to independence.
The founder of KONGSBERG Weapon Factory, Paal Steenstrup, also had a decade long political career as a member of the Independence Party and took part in the National Assembly at Eidsvold where the Norwegian Constitution was written. This was a defining moment in Norwegian history and a big step towards independence. When Norway was working towards complete independence, it was with the support of KONGSBERG. The fact that Norway had the capability of supplying its own weapons was an important factor in the pursuit of Norway’s independence.
KONGSBERG started out as a local weapon factory, but over the years it has become an international company with offices in 25 countries around the world. The relationship with the United States started back in 1892 when the Krag-Jørgensen rifle won a competition against 53 other rifle models, competing against manufacturers around the world. The rifle became the US Army’s new weapon of choice giving KONGSBERG’s technology and fine quality international attention.
When KONGSBERG developed the Penguin missile for the Norwegian F-16 fighter jets utilizing digital rather than analog electronics KONGSBERG once again got the U.S.’s attention. The Penguin missile covered a gap in the U.S. Navy and in 1984 KONGSBERG landed a contract with the U.S. Navy for the development and qualification of missiles for the SH-60B “Seahawk” helicopter. The U.S. Navy has been using these missiles since 1994.
During the next two decades, KONGSBERG continued to get recognition around the world, but the big game changer was their contract with the U.S. army in 2000. Since then the company has strengthen their relationship with the US army and opened several offices in the US.
What is the key to KONGSBERG’s long running success?
In the time leading up to KONGSBERG’s 200th year anniversary, we have taken a hard look at what has let us be KONGSBERG for 200 years. Mr. Skjelstad points out that it is essential to know your domain. Trends come and go, and new technology is constantly becoming available – it is hard to succeed in every field, so you have to know what business you are in and stay true to what you want to solve. Mr. Skjelstad explains that this is how KONGSBERG has been able to remain a leader in its field for so long. Another key factor is that one must look at the past as an indicator of the future. We have always been good at learning from our past – to examine our success as well as our failures so that we may use this information to improve in the future.
Another important contributor to KONGSBERG’s success is that we have a very good understanding of current trends in the marketplace and how one should approach it. Is a new development disruptive or a possibility? To see it as the latter is a part of KONGSBERG’s culture. A good example for this is how KONGSBERG went from building central processing units to utilizing them instead. KONGSBERG was one of the first companies in its field to use commercial items in military equipment. Not every company could have done this, but KONGSBERG has been around for many years, and have gained a great deal of trust and recognition. This situation has enabled us to jump leaps and bounds ahead of our competition.
How are KONGSBERG’s ties to Norway today?
The ties to Norway have always been strong. The headquarter is located in Norway and there are both Norwegians and Americans working for the company. Skjelstad explains that people like that KONGSBERG is a Norwegian Company. A reason for this, I think, is that there is not a cultural clash. Norwegians and Americans share the same set of values when it comes to business. If an agreement is reached, it is honored, since a deal is a deal. To share these values is extremely important in business since it creates an immediate sense of mutual trust.
What is the most exciting KONGSBERG is working on right now?
KONGSBERG is involved in so many different areas, that it is hard to say Mr. Skjelstad says. Personally, I find the opportunities in the U.S. navy especially exiting. This might be biased since that is what I do, but there is a lot happing in other areas that I am proud of as well, an area worth pointing out is our contribution to educating engineers. KONGSBERG is an engineering company and is always looking for new bright minds to join our team. We can provide exciting work in an advanced technology industry that can compete internationally. To make sure that we get the best people available we have agreements with engineering schools and arrange summer studies for engineering students.
What are KONGSBERG’s ambition for the future?
We have worked very hard to support our customers and earn their trust, so our main goal is to make sure that we maintain our position, and continue to be there for our customers. This in combination with growth of course. In addition, as you perhaps saw from our new logo, KONGSBERG 200 or KONGSBERG to infinity, we plan to be around for many years to come.
How can NACC help KONGSBERG in reaching their goals?
NACC can help KONGSBERG by increasing their focus on business and being a catalyst for commerce. To do this NACC must continue to strengthen their relationship with the official Norway such as the embassy and the ministry of trade. NACC should be the link between KONGSBERG and others in the Norwegian-American business community and official Norway.
Why is NACC important for the Norwegian business community?
NACC is important for the Norwegian-American business community because it presents a forum where companies from different sectors can come together. NACC has different chapters that covers different areas, which is a huge plus. NACC MA is a local expert and knows what is going in the mid-Atlantic area, which is valuable for the businesses in this area. The fact that NACC MA has ties to the official Norway and can be a link between the business community and the official Norway is another reason for why NACC is important for the business community.
The Chamber would like to thank Mr. Skjelstad from KONGSBERG for taking time for this interview! We congratulate you on your 200 years anniversary and we look forward to continue to serve KONGSBERG as a NACC member!