Hilde Midthjell is one of Norway’s richest women, and the first to earn 1 billion Norwegian Kroner (by 2016), according to the country’s business magazine, Kapital. She got there by founding, owning, and managing one of Scandinavia’s largest cosmetic and skincare distribution companies, Dermanor, from 1987 to 2009. Midthjell then set her eyes on the outdoor industry, acquiring the classic knitwear brand Dale of Norway to lead a turnaround and prove that keeping production in Norway could still yield profits. Her success these past few years caught the eye of wintersports powerhouse Rossignol, which recently purchased Dale from Midthjell and is keeping her on as CEO. Midthjell doesn’t mince words. Where she sees quality, she sees opportunity to grow a brand considerably, with more efficient and faster ways of doing business in her home country. She shares with us her keys to success and why big business isn’t necessarily bad.
What qualities attracted you to purchase and lead an independent company like Dale of Norway?
Hilde Midthjell: I’ve always liked to work with high-quality brands with unique stories. Dale of Norway is well-known worldwide for its garments of pure wool, and is the only Norwegian knitwear brand with a real heritage that still produces in Norway. It is a strong international brand, due to all the famous Olympic sweaters designed by the company. That was a strong motivation for me to take care of and develop such a historic brand and factory with roots back to 1879, especially because the village of Dale is dependent on the factory and the Norwegian production. The Dale of Norway staff also have a unique competence with wool and knitwear that is important to preserve.
Given all those strengths, why sell now?
HM: First of all, because I got an offer from a strong and serious company that I think will be the ideal future owner for Dale of Norway, and that will make the brand grow faster than I can do alone. My goal was never to follow the brand until I grew old, but to renew the collection, increase the turnover, and make the company so profitable that we could show the world that production in Norway is an advantage and not the opposite.
Also, the majority (77 percent) owner of Rossignol Group is the Nordic investment company Altor, which owned Helly Hansen before, and made it into the famous brand it is today. I personally know the former CEO of Helly Hansen and have worked with him and the Altor people in Norway during this process, and all have deep respect for the values and heritage of Dale of Norway. We all agree that Dale of Norway and Rossignol have a lot of synergies and fit very well together as a team.
The main issue of running an independent brand is, of course, when you are a small organization, you are more [vulnerable] in general if you get into unexpected difficulties because you have fewer financial and management resources. For us, the main asset in cooperating with Rossignol is that we will be a much stronger international team that can help each other grow faster.
What common threads do you think have led to your success in both the cosmetics industry and now the outdoor industry?
HM: I am very concerned about fine-tuning all parts of a company, since everything has to work well together to be successful—the production, the deliveries, the economy, the marketing and sales. Several leaders are focused too much on one area, and forget that everything is equally important. In addition, I am very focused on working with unique products to take care of what is the heart of the brand.
What will the new ownership allow Dale to do moving forward?
HM: We will keep our highly competent staff and the production and facilities in the village of Dale in Norway. We will still build on the Norwegian heritage and the focus on high-quality wool garments as before. However, we will be much stronger when it comes to distribution and marketing. For example, we already have the contracts for the official Olympic sweaters for the Norwegian teams for 2018, 2020, and 2022, but we have no customers in Asia. Rossignol is well-established, and can help us into that market. All over the world we can help each other to grow faster.
What advice do you give a company like Rossignol to help keep Dale’s unique nature and success?
HM: I am not against larger corporations, if they are able to take care of the core and unique qualities of the brands in a good way. It is only a matter of values and leadership, not the size of the company. And that is the beauty of this deal—I do not think they need this advice, especially because Altor has Norwegian staff involved. Altor and Rossignol have a deep respect for Dale of Norway’s qualities—Norwegian production, Norwegian design, 100-percent wool and premium-quality knitwear—and will make sure this will be protected while growing it.