11 John Fredriksen, Fredriksen Group
The extensive holdings of 75-year-old John Fredriksen include tanker company Frontline, Golden Ocean Group, Ship Finance International, Flex LNG, Avance Gas, rig owner Seadrill, fish-farmer Mowi, as well as Seatankers Management, the empire’s investment engine house
One of the last big personalities in shipping, the Norwegian-born billionaire is selling off stakes in companies and reducing his workload as he reorganises his considerable maritime assets for passing on to his twin daughters
EVERY year, there are rumours that one of the last big personalities in shipping is preparing his exit strategy. So there is much to read into 75-year-old John Fredriksen’s activities over 2019.
Cyprus’s richest citizen is selling off stakes in his companies and wants to reduce his workload, according to interviews Mr Fredriksen has given this year.
It is already well known that his 36-year-old twin daughters will not be taking over the day-to-day running of his shipping, offshore and fish-farming empire, and he wants to reorganise his remaining holdings and leave a self-sustaining legacy for them.
Norwegian-born Mr Fredriksen’s extensive holdings include tanker company Frontline, Golden Ocean Group, Ship Finance International, Flex LNG, Avance Gas, rig owner Seadrill, fish-farmer Mowi, as well as Seatankers Management, the empire’s investment engine house.
The entire fleet was valued at $13bn by mid-2019, according to VesselsValue, including 26 newbuilding orders worth $1.77bn. Mr Fredriksen’s net worth is estimated at $11.3bn by Forbes and $8.6bn by Bloomberg.
He famously works on gut feeling when making strategic decisions about shipping, knowing billions are at stake. This stands in contrast to an increasingly corporatised, digitalised culture, where accountants and numbers dictate company moves.
It is significant that Mr Fredriksen used 2019 to deepen ties with Trafigura, already a long-standing client.
The world’s second-largest independent oil trader formed a bunkering joint venture with Frontline and Golden Ocean ahead of the biggest shake-up for marine fuels in a generation. The regulatory change mandates lower-sulphur fuels used from January 2020.
Trafigura also took an 8.4% stake in Frontline, worth $128m, in August, in a ships-for-cash and shares deal. Frontline bought 10 suezmax tankers from Trafigura (and later declined options to purchase a further four). Mr Fredriksen retains his 42% stake in Frontline.
BW Group has also bought into the floating liquefied natural gas shipowning company, which listed in New York in mid-2019, supplementing the existing Oslo listing.
There have been internal manoeuvres of note as well. Marcus Hermansen was promoted to chief operating officer of Seatankers in October. Earlier this year saw the departure of Harald Thorstein, who previously managed the Fredriksen group of companies and knew where the proverbial bodies were buried.
Unconfirmed reports had Seatankers behind $500m in tanker orders placed in May at a Chinese shipyard, which, if true, were the first such orders made by the group since mid-2018.
Geopolitical instability in the Middle East has always worked in Mr Fredriksen’s favour, with his first fortune made decades ago, shipping Iranian oil during the Iran-Iraq war.
The shipping tycoon may see current tension and a long-anticipated market upturn as a good time to leave. For now, that gut decision has yet to be made.