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Profile Kjell Almskog Kvaerner's new president and CEO.

Tough decisions face Kvaerner's new president and chief executive officer Kjell Almskog when he takes office at the start of next year. Difficult trading conditions in the process engineering and shipbuilding sectors, added to an acquisition spree, have ripped into the huge Anglo-Norwegian group's performance over the last four years leaving it a shadow of its former self.

This poor performance, which cost Almskog's predecessor Eric Tonseth his job earlier this month, saw over 75% wiped off Kvaerner's share price since 1994. Debt has rocketed to 1bn, profits continue to tumble and the City has just about given up all hope of any realistic improvement.

While Almskog will not be as tolerant as Tonseth, no-one entirely blames Tonseth's creative style for the problems. Shipbuilding has become highly competitive and Kvaerner has many unprofitable yards; oil and gas has been returning low margins; and process engineering is going through a very weak period.

'It's not so much that he took his eye off the ball,' said one analyst. 'There were simply too many balls in the air at once.'

In theory at least, Almskog's task will be fairly straightforward. Each part of the business needs to cut its costs, eliminate unnecessary overheads and start converting its huge turnover into profits. On accepting his new post he made his intentions clear - any part of the business that continues to underperform is likely to be sold.

Almskog comes from Zurich-based engineering group ABB where after 12 years he is now executive vice president of its expanding oil, gas and petrochemicals division and a member of the group executive committee. His reputation is as a capable and tough operator, particularly when it comes to cutting costs and turning businesses around.

Securing his services is seen as something of a coup for Kvaerner. After such a successful career with ABB, Almskog was tipped for the top and was well rewarded for his efforts. As one analyst points out, he is moving from one challenging and interesting job to a challenging but difficult role.

Aside from the challenge - and the huge remuneration package that he will have secured for the move - Almskog's Norwegian roots will have certainly tempted him to Kvaerner. Many observers believe his nationality will help him tackle the business's problems, most of which are rooted in Norway. His past work at National Elektro and National Industri in Oslo has secured the respect and trust of the Norwegian unions. At a business employing about 56,000 staff this could be important.

Kvaerner Construction, however, seems safe from his axe. Since its formation after the 1996 acquisition of Trafalgar House, the business has fared remarkably well in comparison with the group. That said, there is no doubt that once he arrives the need to continue this performance will be vital.

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