Knut Kjaer, former head of the $370bn Norwegian oil fund, will join RiskMetrics, in a newly created position of president, the risk management and corporate governance company is set to announce on Tuesday.
The appointment gives RiskMetrics and its proxy adviser unit a high-profile new voice when companies are under pressure to reassess their governance policies following the global financial crisis.
Mr Kjaer was the chief executive of Norges Bank Investment Management for 10 years, which oversaw the Norwegian government pension fund and the investment of Norway’s foreign reserves.
Under his management, the fund – based on dividends from Norway’s huge oil reserves – became a leading advocate of corporate governance.
It is the second largest sovereign weath fund, behind the Abu Dhabi Investment Authority, and is also responsible for paying Norwegian pensions.
Mr Kjaer was known for his low-key approach, taking the train to work each day and receiving a salary of less than $500,000.
As a shareholder, his fund was an early advocate of ethical investing and opposed to many practices common at US companies, such as the generous pay and perks awarded to top management.
For example, it sold its $440m stake in Wal-Mart because of opposition to that group’s labour practices.
Mr Kjaer quit his job in 2007 and has since become a member of the investment council of ABP, the big Dutch pension fund. He will retain that position.
Mr Kjaer said he would start work at RiskMetrics onFriday, and in the next few months plans to move from Oslo to New York.
RiskMetrics was a risk management consultancy which was spun off from JPMorgan in 1998. In 2007 it bought Institutional Shareholder Services, the largest proxy advisory firm, and it went public last year.
Mr Kjaer said: “This brings together two key areas of interest for me, governance and risk management.”
He said the financial crisis had revealed “errors” in shareholders’ approach and that many had not been active enough in their oversight of company boards.
However, this was not the only reason for the crisis, and many shareholders found it difficult to have any impact on board composition under the current rules, he said.
Like RiskMetrics, Mr Kjaer said he supports the right of shareholders to nominate board members – a long-running issue which has seen it conflict with most US company managements.
Companies are mostly opposed to their shareholders nominating board members, preferring to retain control of the board election process themselves.