Norwegian Petter Stordalen (57) enjoys wearing expensive fashion clothes, rappelling down hotel facades, collecting art and investing in environmentally friendly companies. Last year, the assets and shares of his company Strawberry Holding Group were transferred to his three children although he still is in charge of the family business. Read the portrait of Scandinavia’s “King of Hotels”.
The Norwegian businessman and billionaire is a self-proclaimed environmentalist with an estimated net worth of USD 1,4 billion (according to Forbes) stemming from investments in hotels, shopping centers and property. The family owned company Strawberry Holding Group consists of ten companies in real estate, finance, hotels and art.
Nordic Choice Hotels
His hotel chain Nordic Choice Hotels with just under 200 hotels is the biggest hotel chain in Scandinavia. The Strawberry Hospitality Group consists of over 200 hotels employing about 17,000 people. Last month Stordalen bought 40% of the shares in the Scandinavian division of recently bankrupted Thomas Cook.
Petter Stordalen was born in Porsgrunn, Telemark, and since he was very little, he wanted to take over his father’s grocery shop. At age 12, he started to sell strawberries in his local market. That is the background for the name Strawberry Holding.
Norway’s best strawberry salesman
On his corporate website Stordalen writes: “I often envied the other sellers who had larger and fresher berries than mine.” However, his father had advised him to “sell the berries he had because they were the only berries he could sell. “The strawberry philosophy is about taking what you have and making the best of it.”
In a local Porsgrunn paper he was named “Norway’s best strawberry salesman” in 1974.
However, Petter had bigger ambitions than working in his father’s grocery shop his whole life and left his hometown Porsgrunn in favor of Oslo. He recently bought hotel, Amerikalinjen in Oslo, which was named the 12th-best hotel in the world by the Condé Nast Traveler Reader’s Choice Awards.
His first corporate assignment
In Oslo, Stordalen completed his degree at the Norwegian School of Marketing and his first corporate assignment was managing the City Syd shopping center in Trondheim, at age 24. After turning that shopping center into the largest in Norway, he made his first million.
In the early 90s, Stordalen served as the CEO of the historical department store Steen & Strøm, the largest holder of commercial estate in Norway. Together with a group of investors he bought the company. In 1996, however, there was a disagreement between him and the largest shareholder, and he was asked to step down.
A wave of acquisitions
The purchase of Steen & Strøm signaled the start of a wave of acquisitions. In October same year, 1996, Stordalen teamed up with Norwegian investor, Christen Sveaas, and bought 68 percent in the Scandinavian operations of Choice Hotels, at the time consisting of eight hotels across Scandinavia.
In 1999, Stordalen aquired several Swedish and Danish hotels and at 37 he became a billionaire (in Norwegian kroner). In 2012 Stordalen opened his biggest hotel to date, the 500 room 40 000 square meter Clarion Post Hotel in Gothenburg, Sweden. Stordalen, known for being an adventurous, high-energy leader, dropped out of a helicopter attached to wires and walked down the facade of the building as if he was auditioning to be the next James Bond in front of 10 000 Gothenburgers who had gathered to watch the grand opening.
The Thief Hotel
In January 2013, Stordalen opened a new hotel called The Thief, in the Tjuvholmen neighborhood in Oslo. Every one of the 119 rooms has unique original art from artists like Sir Peter Blake, Chris Gianakos and Tony Cragg.
The Thief has signed a sponsorship-deal with the neighboring Astrup Fearnley Museum of Modern Art that gives the hotel access to the museum’s vast art library. Under the agreement, The Thief can borrow some signal work for strategic locations in the hotel. Stordalen has world leading collections of artists like Jaume Plensa, Alex Katz and Franz West. He also owns some of Andy Warhol’s best interpretations of Norwegian artist Edvard Munch.
Shipowner Petter Stordalen
In October 2014, Petter Stordalen’s company Home Capital AS together with Norwegian investor Trygve Hegnar, bough a considerable part of the shares in Hurtigruten ASA, the coastal public route transporting passengers and cargo between ports from Bergen to Kirkenes. Today, Stordalen is the sixth-largest shareholder in Hurtigruten, which recently launched the world’s first hybrid cruise ship. The 450-passenger ship MS Roald Amundsen is currently taking leisure cruises to Antarctica, but is designed to cut emissions by 20% by running on a combination of low sulfur diesel fuel and battery packs.
Environment-friendly Petter Stordalen
On the Strawberry website, Stordalen writes that he will pursue investments that “contribute favorably to society, the environment, and the future of our children.”
Stordalen has pursued a number of philanthropic endeavors in recent years together with his newly divorced wife, doctor and environmentalist Gunhild. He has donated large amounts of money to various charitable organizations within environment/climate change and scientific research programs through the Stordalen Foundation, established in 2011.
In recent years Petter Stordalen’s daughter Emilie has been involved in the family business. With a bachelor’s degree in hospitality from Cornell University in the USA and a master’s degree from Imperial College in London, she is currently a deputy manager at the Hub Hotel in Oslo which opened last year. The same year he transferred the assets and shares of Strawberry Holding to his three children Emilie (27), Henrik (24) and Jakob (21). Although he only holds 0.01 percent of the shares, Petter Stordalen is still in charge of the family business.
In 2016, Stordalen was named the Brightest Business Mind in Northern Europe.
In 2017, Stordalen said to the Norwegian financial paper Finansavisen, “Today, I’m really grateful that they fired me. Without their resolute action, I would never have experienced the adventure that would be far greater … Nordic Choice Hotels.”
Portrait of Scandinavia’s «King of Hotels”, written by Tor Kjolberg