Petroleum Wives Club
The following article has been transcribed from the May 2011 edition of the Norwegian business publication Finansavisen. A copy of the original article is available for download here.
Houston: They put their careers on hold to look after house and family. Now the oil ladies in Houston are studying entrepreneurship too. Some are planning a business to help other Norwegian expat families in Houston.
“I want to be a billionaire so frickin bad!” Spontaneous singing breaks out in a quiet suburb of Houston, confusingly similar to Wisteria Lane in the television series “Desperate Housewives.” In one of the luxurious villas are four Norwegian ladies refining a business plan. They have just tried to explain to a Finansavisen reporter (Norway’s second largest financial newspaper) the song to add as soundtrack for the PowerPoint presentation about their proposed business.
Life was turned upside down when their spouses got their jobs in the U.S. oil capital.
Highly educated “oil wives” had to terminate their jobs to join their spouses and move abroad. In Texas, they have become housewives, removed from their own networks and with modest career opportunities. What happens when the husband’s contract expires and they are going home to Norway? After living abroad for a few years, it would be nice to come home with more than a master’s degree in pedicure on my Curriculum Vitae (resume)”, says Line Skaar (43).
Norwegian Expat Spouses Study Entrepreneurship in Houston
It’s early in the morning, and the husband Asmund is at work. He heads DnB NOR’s operations in Houston and is busy taking care of clients in the world’s largest oil conference, OTC. Home in Bellaire, Line Skaar has invited her work group for a team meeting. As one of 30 participants, she is attending a course in Entrepreneurship at Houston Community College (HCC). The program was initiated and organized by Innovation Norway and the HCC Center for Entrepreneurship at HCC Spring Branch in Northwest Houston.
Line’s group has been tasked to develop a business plan for a new business. They have not gone far to find inspiration. The group wants to start “ExpatPower,” a specialized company offering relocation services to employees of Norwegian companies sent to Houston. This consists of everything that is needed to ease the transition for employees that are sent abroad: a house to live in, school for the children and training in local customs and culture.
When you move here you know nothing, says Anne Lier (29). Anne is the youngest in the group, but has already lived six years in Houston. She has full days raising her two children while her husband Kristian Lier is looking for new investments for the Norwegian Energy Ventures.
Many Wives had full Careers in Norway
Norwegian companies are very generous with salary packages to attract the staff, especially because many families have to take into account two career paths. Thus, Norwegian expats living in Houston are experiencing a relatively luxurious life compared to living in Norway. Many companies have covered everything from flights, to house to a maid for these families. According to Innovation Norway, up to 7,000 Norwegians live in Houston in connection with work, mainly in the oil industry. There are 140 Norwegian companies established in the area.
High interest means that Bjørn Tormod Akselsen, Chief of Innovation Norway in Houston, would like to extend the current course offerings. We do this primarily for the spouses to allow them to build their network over here, both socially and academically. The goal is to increase job satisfaction for the posted and their families, says Akselsen.
According to Akselsen, it is a known fact that several Norwegian “expats” terminate the stay because the family feels uncomfortable. It is very passive to just be a housewife
after having had an active career, says the Innovation Norway boss.
Spouses Continued Growth is a Win-Win for Host Companies & Entire Family
He points out that most people marry into same demographic level. If you have higher education, then you usually marry someone who also has it. This means that the career comes to a temporary stop for the spouse not working. Increasing the well-being of the spouse, increases job satisfaction for the employee and the entire family, says Akselsen. He estimates that about 90 percent of the participants in the course have higher education. Among the ladies attending the course at the HCC Center for Entrepreneurship are teachers, economists, engineers and lawyers.
Is it a part of Innovation Norway’s mandate to increase job satisfaction for spouses overseas? Our mandate is to encourage and help Norwegian companies to grow abroad. When they send people overseas, it is basically a cost for the companies. It takes two to three years to build a network, so a stable workforce is of great value for the companies, says Akselsen.
Norwegian Entrepreneur Students Say Class Activities Are Productive and Social
Laughter rises around the table when Line’s laptop speakers accompany her power point presentation blaring “You work hard for your money!”
She shows the rest of the group the presentation she has crafted the evening before. The company logo consists of a gold fish that jumps from a glass bowl to another. The slogan is “Enrichment for the entire family”. In addition, the group is committed to their own enrichment. Companies that want to hire “ExpatPower” need to pay $6,000, in addition to $700 per family that are supervised. The price includes four seminars, two in Norway before moving and two in Houston. “ExpatPower” will also offer job search assistance to spouses coming to Houston.
“We have all been through this move, and it was not always very easy, “says Siri Janvin (55), married to the Statoil project manager Sigurd Liland. The companies take care of the employee, but not the family that comes in tow. “There is much ground to plow,” says Inger Simonsen (55), civil engineer with background from ConocoPhillips. Her husband is still working for the same company in Houston. The children work very hard to handle school change. Partly because of the life change, but also because the schools here require that you follow up on a completely different level than in Norway, says Inger Simonsen.
An Oasis From Dual Career Pace – Chance to Enjoy, Grow and Explore
Despite the unfamiliar environment, the girls agree that they feel privileged that they do not need to work while here. It is wonderful. I look at these years more as an oasis to fill with other things in life. I enjoy myself, says Line Skaar. She looks at the stay as a break and an opportunity to reflect on her own career and perhaps to re-position it.
Many people in Norway are experiencing the situation with two careers as a constant rush. You get to spend time with the kids in a completely different way over here,
says Inger Simonsen. None of the girls regret having left their own career in the home country, but agree that it can be an obstacle for many. They think that courses of this type can make the decision easier. “It is important to have something that you feel is meaningful to do”, says Siri Janvin. And the husbands are said to be “very positive” about the course. “As long as we are happy, they are happy. I guess that is the whole thing to it”, says Line Skaar.
- Derived from the English phrase “Expatriate”
- Formally defined as a person who lives outside country where he or she is a citizen
- Used mostly about employees being sent abroad of their businesses to work
Anne Lier (29)
- High School, Management Certificate HCC
- Married to Kristian Lier, investment manager in Energy Venture
- Six years in Houston
Line Skaar (43)
- Econimist, leave of absence from Det Norske Veritas (DNV)
- Married to Asmund Skaar, head of DnB Nor Houston (Norwegian bank)
- Two years in Houston
Siri Janvin (55)
- Married to Sigurd Liland, project manager in Statoil.
- Two years in Houston
Inger Simonsen (55)
- Civil Engineer, worked in ConocoPhillips
- Married to Jim Sylte, reservoir engineer in ConocoPhillips
- Eight years in Houston
Posted May 23, 2011
Filed under Entrepreneurial News