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“In a way we’re a family business, really”, says factory manager Agnete Skog.
If anyone had told her that she would start managing the business a few years before she took over, she wouldn’t have believed them. Because Agnete was determined to become a ship’s captain. However, her father had a suspicion that this is where she would end up. In 2017, when Lerøy bought the processing plant, his suspicions were justified.
“We had been running the plant together before that. It was just a case of swapping roles”, says the current factory manager.
The people who swapped roles were she and her father, who had previously been the manager. Agnete was just 24 years old at the time, and word spread quickly about the youngest female manager of a Norwegian fish factory. Not only that: she also became the boss of her mother, father and brother. Although her father, Jan Arne Skog, was supportive of his daughter taking over, it was hard for him to get used to the idea that the plant was no longer “his”. In addition to that big change, stricter rules and regulations were introduced, which meant that Agnete found her own way of doing things.
“I just had to learn to let her get on with it. That was a process I had to go through, and it meant accepting some things I didn’t agree with”, says Jan Arne.
The family had no plans to sell the factory when Lerøy offered to buy it. They knew that large companies generally acquire smaller ones to close them down. For them to consider selling, the acquisition had to reflect their spirit and be based on their existing plans. These plans included big investments in both the building and equipment. Which Lerøy has made after taking over.
“We have been pleased with the whole process. We feel that Lerøy is a fantastic employer”, says Agnete.
She says the family has often discussed how positive the acquisition has been for them and the processing plant.
“They have kept their promises, and they have also really looked after us. As the owners, Lerøy must be happy that they have a factory at Skårvågen which is being looked after well”, says Jan Arne.
At the end of the 1990s, a bank contacted Jan Arne and a friend, who were both fishers, to ask whether they would consider taking over an old fish processing plant. The plant was doing so badly that there were few other options that could save the factory buildings from demolition. The two fishers saw it as an opportunity, and decided to hire some people to run it. But the business remained unprofitable.
“That’s when I decided to rent out my boat and go ashore to try to get the factory into the black”, he says.
Little did he know then that the processing plant from the 1940s would become much more than just a job for him and his family.
Running the processing plant involved a lot of long days at work, which had a big impact on the one person who was left at home. When Elin Skog used to come home from her job at the local nursery school, it might be hours until she saw her husband, and sometimes she was even asleep by the time he got home. So she started going to the factory after finishing her working day.
“We needed her”, says Jan Arne.
Elin enjoyed it so much that she decided to take up a part-time job there. She took care of the cleaning, which gave the others more time for the fish. That was important, as volumes were increasing.
By 2002, the family was spending so much time at the fish processing plant that they decided to sell the house where they lived a few kilometres away and build a new one, just 100 metres away from the factory.
“We have grown up here at the factory. I have been cutting out cod tongues since I was 6-7 years old”, says Agnete.
As the years passed, she started doing more work in the afternoons after school and at weekends, and during holidays she often ran the whole place by herself, while her father tried to take a well-earned holiday. Although she wanted to become a captain, she asked her father whether she could take a gap year from her studies to work at the processing plant. He was happy for her to do that. But her plan of working for a year before returning to her studies did not turn out as intended, after Agnete fell in love with Christer, who would become her fiancé and the father of their two daughters.
“I’ve been on a gap year since then”, says Agnete, smiling.
When Agnete took maternity leave in 2021, her brother Simon Skog put his job as a policeman on hold and took over the role of manager on a temporary basis. When she returned, they decided that Simon would take over their father’s position as the raw materials manager.
During the transition period, they are both employed. Even if he is a few years away from retiring, the long working days in winter become tougher for Jan Arne for each year that passes. 17-hour days, 7 days a week, take their toll. But he is unsure whether he will be able to let go when the time comes.
“It’s a lifestyle. We have thought about selling the house so I don’t see all of the boats coming in, because if I do, I won’t be able to stay away”, he says.
Agnete and Simon also have an elder sister with an 18-year-old son who has spent a lot of time working at the factory. Jan Arne is sure that some of his grandchildren will end up working here, just like Agnete. Anyway, one thing is certain. This business is staying in the family.