Henrik Poulsen, the chief executive behind the world’s biggest stock market listing this year, sees a common thread in his career progression. “I moved on when things were in calmer waters again,” the 49-year-old told students at Aarhus University two years ago.
This is now something to ponder on for investors in Dong Energy, the Danish group that finally floated on the Copenhagen stock exchange this week, at the fourth attempt in les than a decade.
Much of the success for the listing — and the transformation of Dong from a purely Danish utility and gas business into a global leader in offshore wind — goes to Mr Poulsen.
“He’s got a quiet self-confidence,” says one of his IPO advisers. “He’s very bright, very well prepared, and ultimately he just really delivers.”
But Mr Poulsen’s reputation as “a cleaner-up in Danish business” goes back well beyond Dong to his stints at toymaker Lego, pharmaceuticals group Novo Nordisk and telecoms operator TDC.
He arrived at Lego in 1999 just as the plastic bricks maker slipped into deep trouble. By the time he left in 2007, he and two other top managers — including chief executive Jorgen Vig Knudstorp — had restored the business to health.
“The obvious thing would have been to stay and enjoy the upturn when I had been on the hardest part of the journey” he told the students in Aarhus, where he himself received a business degree in 1994. “But I had spent seven years at Lego and couldn’t find the energy to continue.”
He left Lego for Kohlberg Kravis Roberts, adding a role at the storied US private equity firm to a glittering CV that had already included a period at McKinsey in the US — where he says he received a “wake-up call” about not working such long hours. From KKR, it was a logical step to become chief executive of TDC in 2008, three years after it had become Europe’s then largest leveraged buyout — a deal that provoked angry reactions from unions and politicians.
He then led TDC through two share sales by its private equity owners, overcoming any public controversy in Denmark.
Given these experiences, he must have experienced some sort of déjà vu in his time as chief executive of Dong.
He moved there from TDC in 2012 and landed in the middle of a troubling year for the group: its traditional gas business was struggling, in turn endangering the company’s pivot towards renewable energy. A year later, Dong faced controversy over ownership when Goldman Sachs bought a 19 per cent stake. Public anger almost brought down Denmark’s coalition government, and a bemused Mr Poulsen found Dong on the front pages of newspapers, rather than just in the business section.
Now, it is back in the headlines, having pulled off a successful listing that has more than doubled Goldman’s investment in just over two years. Dong shares rose almost 10 per cent on their first day of trading, valuing the business at DKr106.6bn ($16.2bn).
So, what now for Mr Poulsen?
His name is often mentioned in connection with top Danish corporate jobs, such as running shipping-to-oil conglomerate AP Møller-Maersk. One adviser thinks his broad international experience could make him a target for the likes of Royal Dutch Shell but hopes that Dong will keep hold of him as it adjusts to life as a public company.
Mr Poulsen, an avid cyclist in his spare time, has said little, only that he is looking forward to some time off this summer after a gruelling schedule of investor roadshows in recent weeks. But he told the Financial Times that the “journey continues” after the IPO. “We are only getting started, and together with our highly engaged employees, I will now focus on delivering on our announced ambitions.”