This is one of many stories from our first 50 years. It is also part of the story of how we will succeed with the energy transition.
Equinor’s queen of technology
Margareth Øvrum worked for almost 40 years with Equinor. Thanks to her, Equinor has always invested heavily in technology.
“I believe I was quite brave and dared to do new things. I wanted us to be the best at developing and, not least, adopting new technology. I have contributed to get us to where we are on the subsea realm – including developing a complete subsea factory [at Åsgard] many years before anyone else. When you ask me to look back at my time in Equinor, that’s something I am proud of," Øvrum says.
It is now almost two years since she retired at the end of 2020. By then, she had been at Equinor for over 39 years. With 17 years on the corporate executive committee, she is one of the longest-serving committee members. She shares second place with former CEO Eldar Sætre. The two are narrowly beaten by Peter Mellbye, with his 18 years in the management group.
When Øvrum was the head of Equinor's Brazil operations, the pandemic forced her to go back home in a hurry without being able to thank people and say goodbye. This has bothered her ever since and is why she was recently in Brazil.
“Then I got to talk to most of the people there. That was very important to me. I don't miss the all-consuming job, but I miss the people. I get quickly attached to people around me. I am still in touch with many of my former colleagues and employees,” she says.
Øvrum has not exactly retired. She has started a new career by sitting on the board of four international companies: FMC, Transocean, TFMC, and Harbor Energy, in addition to Fjord Base Holding in Florø.
A lot to learn from Equinor
Throughout her Equinor career, Margareth held several high-ranking technology positions, including executive vice president for technology, projects, drilling, procurement and new energy.
“Equinor has always been keen to be the first when it comes to new opportunities and has always seen technology and innovation as one of the most important things you must succeed at in order to keep up. Equinor has balanced the aspects of both being bold and making risk assessments in a good way. Equinor has a good process for developing, testing and adopting new technology.”
Øvrum believes that the development and adoption of new technology run like a common thread throughout the company’s history and believes the company must be among the very best in terms of sustainability.
“Technological advantages have meant that Equinor has been very early with, for instance, energy efficiency. Part of our sustainability work was to stop gas flaring at our installations. This came as a result of technological development. Still, many have not yet adopted this.
“But the fact is that Equinor, both in a Norwegian and international context, is a very good company. Many have a lot to learn from Equinor. I hope the company will be just as keen to develop and adopt technology in the coming years because I reckon it has given the company both a driving force and competitiveness.”
How has she influenced Equinor?
“Margareth's tireless and purposeful work to drive change through ever-better solutions and continuous improvement is well known. One of her most important contributions was to push forward ambitious and necessary improvements when we experienced the large drop in oil prices around 2015. In addition, she has been a role model for all of us through her humanity, especially towards colleagues and individuals in difficult situations,” says Sætre.
Mostly the only woman
Statoil was ten years old when Øvrum started with the company in 1982. She had just turned 24.
"I was the only female in most of what I did at the time. I've never been afraid of it, but it's apparent that it wasn't good with so little awareness around gender balance and diversity,” Øvrum says.
Øvrum had attended the “nerd line of study” at what was then called NTH – Norway's Technical College – and is now known as NTNU. As the only woman in the line of study, she took technical physics with a specialisation in industrial economics. She applied for seven jobs and was offered eight because Statoil made two different job offers.
“I hit the mark both when choosing education and work,” she says.
The young woman was not afraid of getting her hands dirty and wanted to be involved in all practical aspects of the platform operations. When she was seconded to Elf, she was responsible for making sure that all of the production systems offshore worked as they should. Most of the systems were operated manually then, and she had to open valves and ensure the pressure in the pipes was correct.
“They were not used to women there. I had to show who I was and what I stood for. I gained trust because I was open and talked to everyone, both lower down and higher up in the system," Øvrum says.
At 32, she became the youngest of all platform managers – and the only female of the bunch. That opened the doors for many other women – within a few years, there were another 7-8 female platform managers.
Even with a lack of diversity focus at Equinor at the time, Øvrum was offered to take part in a management course for women in 1985, three years after she started working in the company. She believes Equinor has made advances in this area earlier than most other companies. Her management team in Brazil consisted of 55 percent women.
“Nobody has that in Brazil. It just doesn't happen there. I worked hard to get women offshore. But even more importantly, I worked a great deal with bringing in people from different parts of society, both rich and poor, young and old, with different perspectives and backgrounds,” she says.
Most proud to have contributed to Equinor
- A persistent and strong belief in technology investments
- Developing new management talents
- An efficiency improvement project that reduced the break-even prices on projects from $80 to $20 per barrel
- Contributed to diversity in the organisation
How has she influenced or helped you?
“She threw me in at the deep end, but was always there when I needed support and advice. She cares, is attentive and helpful, but also demands a lot from her employees. I felt very strongly that she wanted good things for me. She genuinely wanted me to do a better job and develop as a leader,” Andrade says.
Important to develop others
Øvrum has brought forward many managerial talents in Equinor. She sees developing people as one of the most essential tasks for a leader.
“For me, it's about giving people responsibility, pushing them out, but assuring them that they always have a safety line. I was always there for them, always backing them. I set the direction, but they were the ones who did it. They were the ones who achieved the results.”
She sees the current CEO of Equinor, Anders Opedal, as one of "her" talents. Others include:
- Torger Rød, the CEO of Vår Energi, who used to be the head of security at Equinor
- Hedda Felin, the managing director of Hurtigruten Norway
- Equinor director Elisabeth Kvalheim
- Equinor Brazil country managers Leticia Andrade and Veronica Coelho.
And there are many more.
What exactly did you do to develop people?
“I have no great theoretical basis for this. I gave them stretch goals and big tasks. It was not a walk in the park. They received very clear feedback. I am very direct. If I disagree with something, everyone sees it. I was honest and could be very detail oriented. But I also listened and could change my mind based on good discussions.”
How did people handle such a tough leadership style?
“I reassured them that I did this because I wished them well. There was a genuine interest on my part in developing people. That made people handle that I was tough. Those who did a good job and really wanted to develop were very comfortable with me, while those who wanted to hide away were unhappy.”
How has she characterised Equinor?
“Margareth was confident that you could do anything but was always nearby if you needed her. She is pretty stubborn, tough as hell, and incredibly caring. She is incredibly good at talking people up and making sure that everyone gets tasks that make them stretch even further. She has a huge interest in driving people forward and developing them,” Larsen says.
Safety and efficiency go hand in hand
Another of Øvrum's significant contributions to Equinor is her work within health, safety and environment (HSE). Her first role in Equinor’s corporate management team was as head of HSE. At the time, safety did not permeate everything the company did, as is the case today. Øvrum was the one who linked safety and efficiency inextricably together in Equinor. The most significant efficiency project she carried out went under the name Step, which was introduced due to extremely low oil prices.
“We had to bring costs down dramatically. We went into all the work processes, changed how we worked with suppliers and reduced the break even on our projects from 80 to 20 dollars per barrel.”
Born September 19, 1958
Started at Statoil in 1982 and retired from Equinor in 2020.
Became Statoil's first female platform manager at Gullfaks A in 1992
She was a member of the corporate executive committee of the company for almost 17 years – from 2004 to 2020 – in the management team of two CEOs: Helge Lund and Eldar Sætre
In 2013, she was named "The most influential technology woman of the year" and received – as a woman – the "Oilman of the year award" from the Society of Petroleum Engineers Norway.
In 2017, she was the first woman to receive "The Norwegian Petroleum Society Award." This is the highest award in the industry.
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