The GMC Culture
The founder Gunnar Magne Christensen Sr. at Kalhammaren, Stavanger.
In 1973, as Gunnar Magne Christensen founded GMC, the merchant fleet and shipbuilding industry were heading for one of the worst crises since WWII.
In spite of this, GMC became a success story through hard work, moderation, and adapting to customer needs. Today, the story continues after nearly 40 years of diversified business at home, abroad and at sea. GMC started as a local company in Stavanger in 1973, focusing actively on ship repair and providing marine equipment. Adapting to market trends and focusing on professional quality helped the company grow into one of the region’s largest private businesses.
Through a multidisciplinary approach to the markets, GMC established a number of affiliates in various fields, from steel and marine electrical engines, to HVAC and logistics. The flagship of the group was then, as it is today, the maritime business at GMC Maritime.
From left: Gunnar Magne Christensen, Roald Rygh, Tor Jan Christensen and Lars Einar Østerbø.
GMCs workshop was located in Badehusgaten 42 the first few years.
The GMC spirit
The GMC name is derived from the company’s founder — Gunnar Magne Christensen Sr. Christensen Sr, founded the company alongside his brother, Tor Jan Christensen, and Lars Einar Østerbø and Roald Rygh.
“The GMC spirit” quickly turned into a slogan within the company, which grew from five employees to several hundred during the first few years of operation. The owners were ardent professionals from the beginning, risking everything they owned for their customers, and working around the clock. Some have remained active, even beyond retirement.
Keeping up “The GMC spirit” meant that all assignments were resolved — usually on tight deadlines. Christensen says the decisive factor for the success of the company was the ability to calculate the risk of new projects and investments. In the beginning, GMC was operating from a limited capital base, forcing the owners to find smart solutions. It was very important to consider which projects would help build the company and which had to be shelved.
— I am proud of all the tenders, suggestions and challenges we have rejected, not just the ones we’ve said accepted, Christensen says.
The ability to manage risk and turn it into a competitive advantage was a central part of “The GMC spirit”, a task that the founder had great focus on.
— We learned the truth of the Norwegian proverb “to open a shop is easy, keeping it open is an art”, Christensen says.
The shipping crisis
The period after GMC´s establishment in 1973 was an historic low point for investing in the merchant marine and shipping industries. The international oil crisis sent the majority of ships into lay-up, and the market for ship equipment and repairs was wiped out. Locally, in Rogaland, the shipbuilding and canning industries started moving abroad, and unemployment was high.
— We had to turn quickly towards the developing offshore industry, which needed new solutions in all areas, says Christensen. The founders brought their personal experience in shipping to a whole new growth industry — an industry very few thought would be of significance for the Norwegian economy.
— The industrial cluster in Rogaland thought the oil bonanza would be over within a decade, but we also had visionaries like Stavanger mayor Arne Rettedal, who fought to make Stavanger the oil capital, Christensen recalls.
Beginning with Ekofisk
Offshore operators began large scale activity with the Ekofisk development — as did GMC. The first job was to prefabricate and mount a skimmer in the Ekofisk tank, a job that was carried out in Stavanger.
The customer was so satisfied that GMC was asked to quote for a new job — to procure and carry 80,000 cubic metres of gravel and rock out to the Ekofisk tank to serve as ballast. In addition, GMC was to place 60,000 cubic metres at the bottom as “anti shure” to prevent the tank from undermining.
— No one had ever done a similar job at sea, yet we met our contractor´s expectation to limit investments and invent new solutions,” says Christensen. In keeping with “The GMC spirit,” the company procured two mining pumps from Australia, installed excavators on-board chartered bulk vessels, and brought rock from the large stone quarries in Dirdal. To operate the excavators in large waves, GMC employed former sailors who would not become seasick. The stone was mixed with gravel and water; then the slurry was pumped into the Ekofisk tank and onto the floor around the basin.
“We completed the job before the autumn storms began in October, and with this, our ticket was fixed for further service projects in the North Sea,” says Christensen.
In 1975, GMC conducted its first major EPCI contract (engineering, procurement, commissioning) on the production platform CDP1, which was built in Åndalsnes, for the Frigg field. After the Amoco Cadiz accident off Brest in 1977, GMC got its first job mobilising oil spill response equipment. After that, development was rapid. North Sea turnover increased, as did operations on mobile rigs and ships. The positive development in ship service activities was largely thanks to Christensen´s brother, Tor Jan Christensen, his hand-picked staff, and his wife, Bjørg.
After several decades working in the merchant fleet, Tor Jan knew the business culture, and he knew what customers wanted. Heavy lift, engineering, underwater technology, pumps and turbines, ventilation, modification, electrical work and instrumentation are just some of the markets that GMC gained experience in during the ’80s and ’90s.
— All our businesses have been started and driven by customer needs, and we have many customer relationships that have existed since the 1970s,” says Gunnar M. Christensen jr.