Jan Morten Ertsaas is one of the few people today who can say they were born in Longyearbyen and one of his first jobs was spending a year working at Store Norske’s coal purification facility. Now, decades after departing for the mainland, he is returning to lead the company as it struggles to find a rebirth.
Ertsaas, 54, was named Store Norske’s new administrative director, effective April 1. His only mining experience was that early purification job, but that’s no longer as relevant as it might have been even a few months ago before Norway’s government decided to permanently end most of the company’s mining operations. Instead, his decades of management, research, engineering and other work for Statoil and other petroleum companies are seen as an asset as Store Norske pursues options for a post-mining future.
“The board is glad to have Jan Morten Ertsaas join the team,” said Annette Malm Justad, the company’s chairwoman of the board, in a prepared statement Tuesday. “His variety of backgrounds and expertise will be a strength for the company in the times to come and we see are looking forward to getting in place in Longyearbyen.”
Ertsaas is currently working as an Investment Director at Investinor in Trondheim. He will be taking over a company that is a fraction of its former size – roughly 100 employees compared to 400 a few years ago – and no longer the economic cornerstone of Longyearbyen that it was for nearly all of its century-long existence. But he said he believes the company can have a long and promising future.
“I really appreciate having this opportunity and an really looking forward to coming back to the town I grew up in,” he said. “Longyearbyen is in transition and I look forward to helping Store Norske to continue being an important player in that.”
Store Norske’s only remaining mining is a relatively small operation at Mine 7 that is expected to continue for another decade. The company’s main task during the next few years will be the dismantling of the mines and infrastructure at Svea and Lunckefjell, in accordance with the government’s decision. The company is also focusing on tourism possibilities involving its historic mining facilities in Longyearbyen (including restoring decaying structures) and property management.
Ertsaas told Svalbardposten it’s too soon say what the most important task will be in his new job.
“It’s clear that maintaining safe, good operation in Mine 7 is crucial,” he said. “We have also been commissioned to do a large job at Svea and Lunckefjell, it must also be done safely and efficiently. It will be a big and important job for all of Longyearbyen. Next will be to get a good dialogue going with all the players in Longyearbyen, both private and state, and find the role of Store Norske for the next 100 years. That will be built on the core competencies and the values of Store Norske.”
Ertsaas is replacing Wenche Ravlo, who announced her resignation last October after taking over as administrative director at the beginning of 2015. He has a master’s degree in marine engineering from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology, worked as a professional diver for the oil and gas industry in the North Sea before and during his studies, worked in various managerial positions during 18 years at Statoil, was vice president of Offshore Oil & Gas Solutions at ABS Consulting, and chief executive officer of Safetec Nordic AS.