"It's rare that we disagree with the other board members and management, but when it happens, it is often regarding issues that are particularly important for the employees. Then we use our influence," says Billy Fredagsvik.
In many places it is inconceivable to have employee board members. In Norway and some other countries it is mandated by law. Therefore, three of Hydro's nine directors are elected by the employees. It is these nine people who appoint the President and CEO and deal with important business development issues - including strategy, acquisitions and sales of businesses. Employee participation comes with immense responsibility.
Since Hydro is a Norwegian company with headquarters in Norway, the employee board members are elected from among the employees in Norway. The same applies to the Corporate Assembly. Coordination with employee representatives from other countries is achieved by other means, including through the employee representative meetings of the European Works Council.
"Board membership means that we are involved when decisions are made and have direct access to senior management. Combined with a good tradition of cooperation this provides two-way opportunities to influence decisions. This is in the best interests of both the employees and the company."
"But do you have real influence or do you just rubber stamp decisions?"
"We participate actively in board work and in discussions with administrative management. We are involved at an early stage. This gives us leverage. My experience is that we generally agree on the major, long-term issues. Examples of this are the construction of the new, part-owned aluminium plant in Qatar and the acquisition of Vale's aluminium operations in Brazil. Disagreements are more common on short-term issues like the restart of capacity that is temporarily shut down in Neuss and Sunndalsøra. Here we feel management is incredibly slow and we are pushing with everything we have."
"What is the hardest thing about sitting on the board?"
"Closure of plants and everything else that results in a reduction of jobs. When such issues come before the board, we do everything we can to find a solution."
"Is it always successful?"
"Not always. In 2010, we strongly disagreed with the decision to shut down the extrusion plant at Karmøy. We made this very clear to the majority of the board and management. But we did not succeed. We regret this, but we must accept that in this case we were in the minority.
Say what we mean
"Is there a risk of conflict of interest when you are so close to top management as you are as board members?"
"No. We have a culture where there is room to say and stand for what we believe. I do not stop being an employee representative when I go into a board meeting. But through membership on the board we see that we are all in the same boat. It is an important realization for management, shareholders and we employees," says Billy Fredagsvik.