Skip to content

Arve, the Architect

Over 50 years ago, in 1972, Arve Johnsen began as first CEO of the Norwegian state oil company, Statoil, which had been established by an act of Parliament in the Norwegian Storting. As state secretary in Norway's ministry of industry, and one of the main architects behind the company, Johnsen was a natural choice for CEO.

Arve Johnsen was the first CEO of Statoil, Equinor’s forerunner. The first office was in an apartment in Stavanger.
Photo: Knut S. Vindfallet

As he opened the door to the office in a rented apartment in downtown Stavanger for the very first time, Johnsen was faced with a completely bare room. As the first and only employee of Statoil, his task would be to assemble a team to build the company.

And as he stood there in the doorway, the enormity of the task loomed before him, crystallising into three visionary ideas:

I have to think about safety. I have to think about research. And I have to think about development.

Arve JohnsenFirst CEO of Statoil
Arve Johnsen

But his next thoughts were more prosaic — the sheer practicalities of starting an office.

Where can I recruit people for the management team, and not least: Where should I go to find furniture for the first board meeting?

This was over 50 years ago, on 1 December 1972, barely three years after the first commercially viable oil discovery in the North Sea. And it was no coincidence that Arve Johnsen was the first employee. As state secretary in Norway's ministry of industry, he was one of the main architects behind the company established to ensure that the nation's natural resources benefited all of Norwegian society.

Arve Johnsen, first CEO and visionary leader

The first CEO of Statoil, Arve Johnsen, died on 6 December 2023, at the age of 89. Through his visionary leadership, he shaped an entire industry and ensured that Norway’s natural resources were utilised in the best interests of society.

Obituary: Arve Johnsen in memoriam

Arve Johnsen

  • Born in February 1934 in Borre, Vestfold
  • As State Secretary in the Ministry of Industry, he was one of the main architects behind the establishment of Statoil and a natural candidate as the company's first CEO
  • Was Statoil's CEO from 1972 to 1988 and developed Statoil into a company of international dimensions
  • Known as a visionary pioneer and a renowned leader in the Norwegian oil industry
  • Died on 6 December, 2023.

Source: Norwegian biographical encyclopedia

The difference between the impossible and the possible is just a matter of time

Arve Johnsen

Statoil was established, with Arve Johnsen as CEO, and Johnsen was able to recruit the people he needed: people with vision. People who understood what he meant when he said that the difference between the impossible and the possible was just a matter of time. And those who understood that cooperation with others – politicians, local communities, and industry players – would be crucial.

And so it became, through close collaboration, the industry that transformed Norway's fortunes, just as Johnsen had initially thought on that symbolic first day in Stavanger: safety, research, and development.

What does a cigar box have to do with the energy transition?

Read the story of how Arve Johnsen recruited Statoil’s second employee, Marit Falck, who became our first financial secretary. And how that story continues today, as the returns from our operations help finance the energy transition.

Today, we are facing the greatest challenge of our time – the climate crisis. Equinor's ambition is to keep supplying energy to society with an increasingly lower carbon footprint and to reach net-zero emissions by 2050. Together we will develop new energy and new industries. To achieve this, we still need to be visionary. We must see the opportunities in the energy transition, not the obstacles. Time is short, and must therefore be spent well, working together. Let's continue Arve Johnsen's legacy together.

Subscribe to our stories

Subscribe to our magazine stories and meet the people behind the ideas—and explore the stories behind the headlines. You will receive new stories by email and you can unsubscribe at any time.

Subscribe here