Erik Jølberg can look back on 54 years as CO of TESS, with a tremendous growth curve. At 80 years old and with 60 years in the hose business, he is still fiercely ambitious on behalf of his life’s work.
Visionary, controversial, engaging, fascinating, curious, creative, impulsive, artistic, loyal, hardworking, detail-oriented, entrepreneur, business leader, and owner.TESS is his life, and his life is TESS. Jølberg has passed retirement age by a wide margin but has no plans to scale back for that reason. On the contrary, he still maintains a pace that very few 80-year-olds can enjoy.Do you get energy from working?
“Yes, when you succeed in what you do, it’s a pleasure to be able to work. I also think it’s a bit amusing when I take two steps at a time and pass the youth at the stairs at the TESS headquarters,” says Jølberg.
Another thing that is going upwards is the results at TESS. Last year, the company had a turnover of 3.4 billion Norwegian kroner, and can point to a growth of 300 million in the pandemic years 2020 – 2021. The further growth plan implies a 30 percent annual increase, doubling revenue by the end of 2024. In the long term, the goal is 10 billion kroner (Euro 1 billion) in total sales.It has been an adventurous journey considering the starting point: Two partners with 10,000 kroner in start-up capital and a solid dose of courage after six years at the Hi-Flex distributor in Norway.“We’ve always looked upwards and forwards,” says Jølberg.
To tell the story of the humble beginnings of TESS, we have to turn back to 1968, when Erik Jølberg and Olav Nygaard were colleagues at Gummi A/S K. Lund & co. Together they saw the opportunity to establish themselves in the hose industry and decided to try on their own. And indeed, they shared an office for more than 40 years.On September 2, the same year, Teknisk Service opened the doors to its own hose shop in an old stable in Drammen.“You could say that we were the ones who built the hose segment in Norway. Teknisk Service was the first entry in the telephone directory under hoses,” says Jølberg.
He has since been asked how they dared to invest in a period of recession.“We didn’t know; we just got started and worked hard,
” Jølberg smiles.Today, the company has over 1200 employees and is established with 130 service centers across Norway and several subsidiaries. TESS has also become a global player, established in seven countries across four continents.
What have been the most important success criteria?
“First and foremost, openness and honesty towards customers. In this way, you create good relationships and develop mutual trust. Customers have evolved, and we at TESS have evolved. Demanding customers like Statoil/Equinor have been the key to our success. We developed the slogan early on: If you are in doubt as to whether something is good enough, it is not,” says Jølberg.
Distribution of the profits
In 2018, he transferred ownership of TESS to the Erik Jølberg Foundation, which annually distributes up to five million kroner to local clubs and associations to benefit children and youth. Recently, he saw the result of this financial support when a football field was opened in his home country.He sees the United States as a pioneer in many ways and has learned much from countless lectures in industrial marketing on the other side of the Atlantic. It provides knowledge and inspiration that he brings back home.“I know what will happen in Norway, but just not when. Sometimes we are a little early, such as when we established industrial e-commerce in the late 1990s and started an IT company.”
Life as a business owner consists of both ups and downs. The pandemic has put a damper on many companies. TESS saw the possibility of continuing with full strength and expanding inventory.“We thought that this is a situation we could master based on previous experience. After previous lows, there is always an upswing. By strengthening our inventory, we were able to move forward with full strength and full inventories when times improved,
” says Jølberg.Availability for customers shall be around the clock – 365 days a year. TESS is seen as a critical supplier that has large deliveries to, among other things, aquaculture and food production. Foreign suppliers, therefore, got through with hose deliveries when the border was closed to freight transport.“We are also proud to have completed 100,000 working days at the TESS headquarters without infection from the workplace,
” says Jølberg.In addition to his job, he is interested in gardening and outdoor activities. During the summer, spending time on mackerel fishing is especially nice, where the catch is often shared with the employees. And in recent years, there have been record catches of more than 1,000 mackerel. Out on the calm fjord, the brain gets a break from managing a multibillion-kroner company.
Work brings joy
Eighty years and, as always, fiercely ambitious on behalf of his life’s work – TESS. He has big plans that will be turned into reality. That’s why he’s also passionate about giving people the opportunity to work longer.“The senior policy at TESS is that people can stay at work if they want and as long as it’s beneficial to them and they do not make significant mistakes. I think more people should follow that line, including finding and training their successor,
” he says.Jølberg thinks it’s crazy that people are put on the bench, parked – or put themselves out of action when they still have a third of their lives left.“The experience and knowledge you gained when you reached what used to be the traditional retirement age are far too valuable to be lost. Work brings joy,” says the fit 80-year-old.
Erik Jølberg (80)
Profession: Founder and CO at TESS
History: Established TESS together with Olav Nygaard in 1968,
EY Entrepreneur of the Year 2015, ONS Honorary award 2010
Marital status: Two sons, five grandchildren and girlfriend
Place of residence: Tranby in Lier, outside Drammen