Interview with Gunn Wærsted: Different Perspectives and Angles

First of all, what is the role of an Executive Advisor at FSN?

To me, the role of an Executive Advisor at FSN Capital is about being a part of the team and looking out for the development of the firm. My operational career and experiences in different industries and companies allows me to add valuable input, especially in the investment process, where our role as advisors is to ensure that we look at investments from as many angles as possible and have diversified input. And for me, a major part of my role is also as Chair of the Board of Obton.

How did you start your board career?

My first real board assignment was with Statoil (now renamed Equinor) in 1997, and for many years I combined one or maximum two board assignment with my executive role. However in 2016, after having been a CEO for over 30 years, I embarked on a board career when I was asked to take on the Chairmanship of Telenor, a listed company. By that time, I had worked at companies that differed in size and ownership structure and experienced businesses being closed, businesses going through crises, and businesses going from zero to strong growth.

One of my first experiences was establishing a company from scratch. This company launched the first money market funds and the first international equity funds in Norway back in 1987. It was an exciting journey to be the first employee and CEO, going from zero assets under management to 5 years later, having 50-60 employees and 5 billion NOK in AUM.

These were all experiences that taught me how to recognize various scenarios and challenges, which is a valuable perspective you can provide as a board member. When I stopped and looked back in 2016, I had been quite operational. Today, I get to work with the strategic part of the business, rather than the daily operations. It is a privileged position which I am very grateful for.

Trust between the board and the management is extremely important. How do you build trust in a board room?

If you do not have trust in the board room – it will not work. Trust is essential. There is one very simple way to build trust, and that is by being honest and transparent. Do you have an atmosphere of openness and respect on the board, where people can say what they mean? Creating this atmosphere is critical, and that requires trust. This does not mean that you shouldn’t bring challenging topics to the table, on the contrary, but you do it in a clear, constructive and respectful way.

A board’s role is often to identify when to support management and when to challenge management. What I am very focused on is that when you do challenge, you do it respectfully. In football or soccer terms, you go for the ball, never for the man.

What would be your advice to those interested in a board career?

A board career is fun, and I would really recommend it. But you need to prepare yourself for it. To be ready, you need to have built broad experiences as an executive that can add value to the board room. You need to have tried yourself in different environments, different cultures and job functions, both P&L responsibility and support function responsibility. It would also be helpful to work closely with a board, so you learn how it works at the board level, which is different from how a management team works.

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