The Power to Adapt: Building One of the World’s Largest Renewables Power Producers

The ability to create strategies and adapt to changing conditions quickly is critical for maintaining a competitive edge, says Christian Rynning-Tønnesen, the CEO of Statkraft, one of the largest power producers in the world. Building the organizational structures to support that demands shared values and solid management.

Christian Rynning-Tønnesen, President and CEO of Statkraft

In just two decades Statkraft has grown from a state-owned, Norwegian-focused power supplier to one of the world’s largest renewables power producers. Statkraft now generates 57 Terawatt hours per year. That’s more energy than what is available from the world capacity of installed photovoltaics. Today, 90% of Statkraft’s energy supply comes from 233 hydropower plants scattered across the globe.

Statkraft is led by Christian Rynning-Tønnesen, who rejoined the firm as President and CEO last year after spending five years as CFO and CEO of Norske Skog, one the world’s largest producers of paper for magazines and newspapers. Rynning-Tønnesen was employed by Statkraft from 1992 to 2005, holding various executive vice president positions from 1994.

In June 2011 – before Norway was shaken by a bombing and mass shooting in July 2011 – Michael S. Hopkins of MIT Sloan Management Review and Boston Consulting Group partner Knut Haanaes had an opportunity to sit down with Rynning-Tønnesen in Oslo to discuss Statkaft’s evolution.

Hopkins: How has your thinking about sustainability changed in the last couple of years?

Almost twenty years ago, Statkraft made a strategic decision to enlarge its portfolio in several renewable technologies — plus the most efficient gas-fired plants — because a mix of production technologies is necessary to produce continuous power. It was a risky strategy, since all the other north European companies were going to neighboring countries to acquire customers, products, or the production sites of all kinds of energy, including nuclear, coal, gas, and hydro.

Hopkins: What drove you to make that decision?

At that time, we were a hydropower company and hydropower was not considered by everyone to be very environmentally friendly. There were protests because of all the dams. We thought that with all the focus on renewable energy, attitudes toward hydro would change. We also saw an opportunity in several areas of the world to construct more hydropower, which was doing more of what we knew how to do. Finally, as a state-owned company, we had to have an appealing business concept that we could communicate to our owner in order to get capital. We were a bit bold in thinking that green and global would be an appealing story.

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