The global leader in marine coatings, Jotun is growing fast in the U.S.

By Jack O'Connell 2014-03-10 17:02:00

Tell us about yourself. 


I was born in Larvik, a small town on the southeast coast of Norway, which explains my interest in maritime. Larvik is a neighbor city of Sandefjord, where Jotun comes from. I have a Master’s Degree in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Glasgow. Prior to joining Jotun, I spent 10 years with Unitor Ships Service, now Wilhelmsen Maritime Services. I started at their head office in Oslo and then spent one year in Houston followed by two years in Miami, working on technical sales to the maritime industry. My strength is in building long-lasting customer relationships.

How many languages do you speak?
My native language is Norwegian, and in addition I speak English, German and some Indonesian.

Where does the Jotun name come from?

The name Jotun comes from Norse mythology. A Jotun is a giant with superhuman strength. Their homeland is Jotunheim, which is one of the Nine Worlds. Jotunheim is mainly mountains, wilderness and dense forests, located in the middle of Norway. The giants live off the fish in the water and the animals in the forests because there is no fertile land. The founder of Jotun, Odd Gleditsch, Sr., thought it would be a good name for his paints, which have similar strength and can withstand all conditions.

Jotun’s penguin logo is unique. What’s the story behind it?


Gleditsch went to sea when he was 15 and in the Antarctic he saw the penguins. Penguins are special creatures. They are caring, loyal, and respect each other and other creatures. They are also bold, facing animals a lot bigger. These were the values Gleditsch wanted his company to have; hence he introduced the penguin to the logo. Today we call ourselves Penguins, and we have the Penguin Culture, etc.


How did you come to Jotun? 


I was recruited by a headhunter for the position of Global Key Account Director – Marine, beginning in 2005. After three years in that position I took the challenge of moving to Indonesia with my family to be Company Manager for Jotun’s operations there. I served as President/Director for PT Jotun Indonesia for three years (2008-2011) and tripled sales while boosting profits five-fold. We were 250 Penguins when I arrived in 2008 and more than 500 when I left, and I was the only non-Indonesian. Then I was appointed Director of Coatings (Marine and Protective) for Scandinavia based in Sandefjord, Norway. After one year in this position I was asked to take the job here in the U.S., and I started as President of Jotun Paints, Inc. in September 2012, based in Houston.


What is “the Penguin Spirit”?

The Penguin Spirit has to do with our values, which are Loyalty, Care, Respect and Boldness. These values stand strong in our organization globally, and you will feel this immediately when doing business with Jotun or working with Jotun. We have the same spirit all over the world, which reflects a very strong culture.


Tell us about Jotun’s U.S. operations.

We have a new production plant and distribution center in Belle Chasse/New Orleans. We had the grand opening last February. This is our main location for operations. In March of last year we opened a new sales office in Ft. Lauderdale to be close to our cruise customers and other customers there. Last September we opened our new commercial head office for the U.S. and Canada here in Houston’s CityCentre. We also have another location here in Houston, which serves as a distribution center and office.


            We operate in the marine and protective coatings market. Jotun is the global market leader in marine with a roughly 25 percent market share. In offshore we are also the global market leader. In the U.S. and Canada we will be focusing our efforts and investing in order to increase our market share in coming years. 


Jotun is the world’s biggest supplier of coatings to the marine industry. What makes its products special?

We have a very focused R&D department, which develops products based on our customers’ needs. We have, among others, the best antifouling coating on the market, SeaQuantum X200. This technology reduces speed loss, which means lower energy consumption, which means a reduced carbon footprint.


What sectors of the maritime industry do you serve?


We serve them all. We are very strong in the ocean-going fleet and shipyards and somewhat less concentrated on the inland river and lake business. This will, however, change since we will focus on this market here in the U.S. as well.  

Who are some of your more important customers?


Globally we are strong with the bigger shipowners and the yards. We cover all the marine countries world-wide and have a solid network


What new and exciting products are you working on?


Our R&D organization is constantly developing new and improved products to benefit our customers. We are currently introducing new products for onboard maintenance that are more user-friendly and help reduce waste and the number of products needed.

What is the Jotun GreenSteps initiative?

A GreenStep innovation is a new or improved product or solution that adds value for our customers and contributes to at least one of Jotun’s GreenSteps without compromising the others. Jotun's greatest contribution to the environment is the way our premium coating systems protect property against decay and corrosion. For the marine side of our business, reduced emissions from vessels sailing with better antifouling solutions is our greatest contribution to the GreenStep Program. Our HPS (Hull Performance Solution) product includes our top-of-the-line antifouling agent as well as measurement methods and a guarantee to ensure reduced emissions.

The shipping industry has been in a slump for five years. How has this affected your business?


Jotun has had success in this industry for many years, and we accept that it is a cyclical market, which will always go up and down. The last year we, like the rest of the market, experienced a downturn. However, we have not lost market share due to this, rather the opposite. We found that our customers are looking more for premium solutions to antifouling to reduce speed loss, which gave Jotun a nice increase in sales of our SeaQuantum products.

What do you see in the next five years?


The world fleet is growing, so there will be more vessels to maintain. Newbuildings have started to pick up. We are concerned about another oversupply of vessels, but we also see growing demand for new and more eco-friendly vessels with significantly lower fuel consumption. Our products can help do that.

What are your goals for Jotun USA?


My goal is the same as the company’s, which is to be the number one choice for customers when it comes to a partner in paint. As a third-generation, family-owned company, the goals will stand strong and endure since we have long-term strategies.

What do you regard as your biggest challenge?


Our biggest challenge is to build the Jotun brand in the U.S. similar to what we have done in the rest of the world.

How would you describe your management style?


There is a big difference between managing and leading. I strive to be a leader, setting direction and goals. I am also a firm believer that you need to be able to adopt the style needed at the moment. Being humble toward people’s experience and skills and respecting their differences are critical. In our industry you need cross-cultural understanding and the ability to communicate openly and clearly. I believe in developing people by training, training and training. I listen actively and promote independence and trust, since this motivates ownership and creativity. We do make mistakes since this is how we learn. I come from a culture where we admit a mistake and then commit to fix it, which seems to be different here. 

I love people, and I understand that people make the difference. Hence it is important to care for your people, to be fair, firm, and bold when needed. I stand in the middle of my people, not at a distant top.

What do you like to do in your spare time?


I am a late starter when it comes to family and so I have small kids. I love my family and spend all my spare time with them. We are active and like to travel and see new places. We do a lot of skiing, hiking and boating. In Houston I try to stay fit by roller-skiing on the bayou with my wife, Kristin.


Are you involved in any pro bono activities? 

While living in Indonesia and home in Norway I have always been active in different activities, helping less fortunate people. Here in the U.S. I have yet to find the time, unfortunately.

Any final thoughts for our readers?
Try us! – MarEx

Jack O’Connell is Senior Editor of the magazine. 

The opinions expressed herein are the author's and not necessarily those of The Maritime Executive.