Norway’s Wealth Fund Seeks to End CEO Drama

The country’s massive oil fund announced its controversial incoming chief executive, wealthy businessman Nicolai Tangen, will ditch his entire stake in the hedge fund he founded.

Nicolai Tangen (courtesy NBIM)

Nicolai Tangen

(courtesy NBIM)

Nicolai Tangen, the high-powered hedge fund executive whose appointment to lead Norway’s massive wealth fund sparked intense criticism, will sell his entire stake in the firm he founded and restructure how his personal fund investments are managed, the manager of the sovereign fund announced Monday.

Tangen, who founded $20 billion hedge fund firm AKO Capital, is set to start his new job as chief executive of Norges Bank Investment Management, which manages Norway’s $1.1 trillion Government Pension Fund Global, on September 1. The announcement in March that Tangen would succeed Yngve Slyngstad as CEO ignited controversy on several fronts, from how he was recruited and hired — his name did not appear on an initial short list of candidates for the job — to potential conflicts of interest.

The controversy grew more intense when Norwegian tabloids revealed that Tangen flew Slyngstad and others on a private jet in November to an exclusive conference he organized at the University of Pennsylvania. (Tangen personally paid $1.4 million to ferry Slyngstad and others on two chartered flights to his “dream seminar,” Institutional Investor previously reported.)

[II Deep Dive: Why Did a Hedge Fund Manager Worth $700 Million Take a $630,000-a-Year Job Managing an Oil Fund?]

Tangen’s appointment was the subject of a parliamentary hearing earlier this month. Norges Bank’s announcement Monday appeared to go further than earlier steps the sovereign wealth fund manager had taken to eliminate any conflicts that may have arisen given Tangen’s former role as head of investments for a hedge fund firm.

“I have taken these actions to remove any doubt about which hat I am now wearing,” said Tangen in the statement from Norges Bank. “I want to be CEO of the oil fund, and have only one objective: Creating wealth for future generations.”

Previously, Tangen had put his personal fortune in a blind trust, to be run by an outside manager, and said he would donate all dividends arising from his stake in London-based AKO to the AKO Foundation. Under the new arrangement, Tangen will transfer his AKO holding and dividend rights to the AKO Foundation and will no longer have any ownership interest in the hedge fund “in perpetuity,” according to the statement.

Tangen will also change how his personal investments are managed, so that all assets are held as bank deposits.

“The executive board has been of the opinion that the contractual framework surrounding Tangen’s employment contract was sufficient in preventing potential conflicts of interest, but we have noted, of course, that the Storting takes a different view,” said Norges Bank governor Øystein Olsen in the statement, referring to objections raised by members of Norway’s parliament. “We are of the opinion that the agreement, which the executive board has now endorsed, addresses the concerns.”

In the parliamentary hearing earlier this month, Julie Brodtkorb — who heads the fund’s supervisory board, appointed by parliament to oversee the fund’s governance — said that there was a breach of “guidelines, regulations, and laws” during the hiring process, according to a Reuters report earlier this month.

Reuters estimated Tangen’s personal fortune at more than $500 million.