Sirine Fodstad ’97 spent years traveling around the world for work. But her story starts and ends in Norway.
Sitting in the lobby of Oslo’s renowned Grand Hotel on the city’s main street, she fondly recalled running into Chuck Nelson, the man responsible for attracting many Norwegian international students to Pacific Lutheran University.
During their meeting in 1993, Nelson recited his pitch to Fodstad about the American institution of Lutheran higher education — founded by Norwegian immigrants — and she was sold.
“A couple of months later I was enrolled and started my first class on a beautiful fall campus,” she said. “My first trip to America and it was a mix between scary and exciting.”
Fodstad seemed to cope well with the fear. She earned not one, not two, but three bachelor’s degrees during her time at PLU. In between studying French, business and economics, she managed to find time to study away, as well, launching her global lifestyle long before she knew where her education would take her.
“I don’t think I saw myself here when I was a student at PLU,” she said. “I ended up working with people, and I love that. It was a bit by default. I didn’t aim for that.”
Fodstad is the global human resources director for the Norwegian Sovereign Wealth Fund. Its mission is to safeguard and build financial wealth for future generations in Norway, a country that has amassed significant profits in the energy sector. A portion of revenues earned in the nation’s oil and gas industry have been set aside for the global pension fund, Fodstad said. It’s her job to manage personnel matters within the fund, which recently passed $1 trillion U.S. dollars.
“It’s just amazing,” Fodstad said of the amount of savings. “I can’t really get my head around that kind of number. It’s too many zeros.”
Fodstad’s job is wide-ranging and far-reaching. She travels at least twice a year to each of the four offices around the world: London, New York, Singapore and Shanghai. “All the financial centers, basically,” she noted.
Those locations, in addition to the home base in Oslo, are strategically placed. The fund invests in stocks, state and corporate bonds, and real estate. “We are one of the largest real estate investors in the world,” Fodstad said. “We own quite a lot on Times Square.”
Fodstad said her job is never boring. She handles the so-called “employee lifecycle,” encompassing personnel matters from the time a potential hire is thinking about joining the fund to the time that person leaves. She manages everything from recruiting, training and professional development to employee relations, recognition and facility management.
“This is an organization that’s growing really quickly because the funds have grown very quickly,” she said. “That means we’re continually developing offices.”
That also means extremely varied work, she said.
“Anything from coffee machines and stationery to strategic impact of doing a new investment strategy and how to make sure you have the right people,” she said. “All over the place in a good way.”
Fodstad praises PLU’s emphasis on global education and her study away opportunities for preparing her to take on leadership roles in an international framework. After leaving Norway to study at PLU, it took her 17 years to return.
During that time, she worked in human resources and consulted for international companies. At one point in her career, she was on a plane twice a week on average.
“I’ve spent a lot of time traveling my whole career,” she said.
Her first job out of college was at an international agriculture company in Trinidad and Tobago, where she studied away as a PLU student. That experience abroad was her first time immersed in a culture totally different from her own. And she loved it. “That’s when I decided I wanted to go back,” she said. After that, she studied business for a year in France, including a semester taking classes taught in French. “I guess it gave me the taste for doing more of it,” she said of studying all over. “It gave me the opportunity to experience it firsthand.”
Fodstad’s love for her international experiences extends to the four years spent at PLU. She’s enamored with her alma mater and the lessons she learned there.
“PLU core values are very linked to the Norwegian belief system,” she said, adding that Norwegians naturally gravitate toward the university’s mission. She said the emphasis on a well-rounded education, tolerance, and embracing cultural diversity are some of the many intersections between PLU and Norwegian values.
“PLU core values are very linked to the Norwegian belief system.”
However, she stressed, Norwegians appreciate the focus on community above all else.
“There’s a lot of great connection between PLU and Scandinavia,” she said. “I hope that really continues, because I think there’s great value in that.”
Fodstad remains connected to PLU’s School of Business. She has spoken as part of the annual Executive Leadership Series and was even honored with an award during the school’s 50th anniversary celebration in 2011. This spring, she will speak as part of the Johan Mehlum Lecture Series.
Despite all her traveling — and her love of faraway places such as London and Miami — Fodstad said she’s happy her career has come full circle. She returned to Norway in 2010 for a previous job at a consulting firm.
“At some point, I had to make the decision to come home to Norway again,” she said.
Upon being hired for her current role, Fodstad said the chief executive officer told her that it appeared to be a homecoming of sorts. Fodstad agreed.
“I’m hoping that I will stay there for a long time,” she said. “I feel like I’ve come home.”