The following is an excerpt.
With thorough insight in aluminium, automotive industry and anti-terror, it’s hard to imagine a better match for SFI CASA than SINTEF’s new CEO Alexandra Bech Gjørv.
This perfect match is a lawyer by training, with a degree from Oslo, a certificate from Oxford and a license to practice law in New York. Today, she regards this part of her past more like a detour:
“Looking back, I see a pattern that almost looks planned, with three significant threads. First, I have always taken an interest in industrial development. Second, I enjoy the challenge of getting complex organizations to work well. Third, advanced sales of services in highly competent enterprises has been a recurring trigger.”
Hydro and Statoil
SINTEF is not new to Bech Gjørv. She’s been a board member for four years. At the time, she was a Hydro executive with several years behind her in the automotive structures division. When Hydro and Statoil joined forces, Bech Gjørv was the only Hydro executive to continue on top in the merged company. All in all, she worked 17 years for the two companies. The tasks ranged from windmills to carbon capture, from aluminium to HR.
The multifaceted experience is no handicap in her new position: SINTEF develops everything from data chips for space stations to fodder for fish farms.
Alexandra Bech Gjørv gave her first major address as SINTEF CEO at the annual conference of the Confederation of Norwegian Enterprise. In her presentation, she said: “We are best friends with NTNU”.
She is well aware that her 2000 colleagues in Scandinavia’s largest independent research organisation rely heavily on the cooperation with the neighbouring university.
For the partners in SFI CASA, access to the SIMLab Tool Box, owned jointly by NTNU and SINTEF, is an essential foundation for innovation and commercial harvest from the scientific findings.
Lessons learned from terror
As most Norwegians know, Bech Gjørv headed the fact finding commission appointed by the government after the 2011 terrorist attacks.
She makes a point of not commenting whether the police has taken on the lessons learned. On the other hand, few have a better impression of the results of the terrorist attack. This includes the massive impact of the explosion outside the government high-rise.
She readily recognizes the importance of SIMLab’s and CASA’s advances in multi-scale testing, modelling and simulation of materials and structures. One of the many areas where this kind of research is needed is in the planning of the new government administration complex:
Simulations showed the need
“Simulations of structural vulnerability is a critical enabler of planning a government complex with an architecture and choice of materials that balances the real needs for security with the equally important need for democratic access.
Our commission did in fact document that such simulations done before the terrorist attack showed a need to block the street leading to the Prime minister’s office for vehicle access, while showing that allowing pedestrian access was an acceptable risk. The mistake made was in not implementing the governmental decision to block for vehicles,” she says.
Curiosity killed the cat. Luckily, it doesn’t work like that for humans. In Alexandra Bech Gjørv’s case, it is what drives her.
“At the same time, I’m disciplined. In spite of a spontaneous nature, over the years in executive positions, I have learned to enjoy working systematically and with a plan. It definitely helps that I find whatever I’m working with at any given moment very exciting. I get completely absorbed,” she confesses.
At the time of the interview she is full of enthusiasm over the fruits of a long-lasting collaboration between her old employer Hydro, SINTEF and NTNU: Hydro has decided to invest almost 4 billion NOK in a pilot for the world’s most environmentally friendly aluminium plant at Karmøy.
A need to cultivate
SINTEF’s new CEO stresses the importance of high ambitions as well as the courage to ask difficult questions. This includes a diligent search for the highest risks, whether the topic is avalanches, terror or refugees.
“SINTEF’s mission is to guide enterprises on the road to creating value by solving problems in society,” she says.
She looks forward to continue the cooperation with best friend NTNU, including CASA. She also is well aware of the continuous tension between a university dedicated to basic research and an independent research organisation that must always have the market in mind.
“I think this fundamentally is a constructive tension, that has served both NTNU, Norwegian industry and SINTEF well over the years. However, as the institutions have grown, there is a need to cultivate and perhaps formalise the relationship a bit more. I also have some ideas around how the Ministry of Education could facilitate the university/institute relationship, but I shouldn’t get too excited before the ideas are fully explored with people more experienced in university politics than myself,” she sums up.