Electrolyser maker HydrogenPro has seen five different CEOs over the past four years, and is due to get its third chairman in the space of six months.

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And now there is friction among the Norwegian company’s owners, with a public disagreement over the make-up of the board that has pitted two long-time business partners against each other.

On Monday last week, the company called a general meeting to elect a new board and appoint a new chairman. Current chair Terje Mikalsen is due to step down, and Dag Opedal, formerly CEO of Norwegian conglomerate Orkla, has been lined up as a replacement.

Two days later, the company posted a new stock-exchange notice stating that the company’s founder and biggest shareholder, Richard Espeseth — Mikalsen's long-time business partner, who is due to stand down from the board — had requested an extraordinary general meeting about the proposed board.

Espeseth, whose wife Vivian has been nominated to the new board by the company’s nomination committee, told Norwegian business daily DN (Hydrogen Insight’s sister publication) that he wanted different board members.

“As an entrepreneur who has built up the company from the start, I see that we are moving in the wrong direction, and I want to stop that,” he said.

“What I want is for there to be stability both in the administration and also in the course that we have previously decided. I want peace and quiet in the ranks, and want everyone who works in HydrogenPro to pull the load in the right direction.

“I want a new and flexible board where those people are handpicked because it is important to have detailed expertise on what HydrogenPro needs.”

Espeseth — who was general manager of the company until 2020 and served as interim CEO for a few months in 2022 — said that he has different candidates for the board in mind, but did not want to name them just yet.

“I think many people are disappointed that the share price has a steady downward curve month after month,” he added.

Espeseth owns close to 18% of the company, which specialises in high-pressure alkaline electrolysers, while 80-year-old Mikalsen, an early investor in HydrogenPro, owns just over 15%. Vivian Espeseth, who is employed by the company as procurement and supply chain director and “chief representative of China”, owns a further 5% of HydrogenPro.

Mikalsen has been less than impressed with his old friend’s strategy.

“For some reason that is incomprehensible to me, he has insisted that he send out a notice for an extraordinary general meeting instead of letting it be a proposal at the ordinary [annual] general meeting,” the 80-year-old told DN.

He believes that the election committee has proposed a board with professional and experienced company managers who “can undoubtedly choose from top-shelf board offers” and thinks it's a shame that Espeseth wants a different composition.

“As the company’s technological entrepreneur, he has done a lot to get the company's products in place, but it is unfortunately typical for many entrepreneurs that they do not realise that when the company grows and receives capital via the stock exchange, it requires management that is able to build a professional team that has insight into all aspects of a company's operations,” Mikalsen explained, adding that he was “worried” about what this dispute would to in terms of trust in the company.

“The only thing I know about [his] plan is that he wants to be general manager. He has said that to me and several others. Beyond that, I can’t speculate.”

HydrogenPro has decided to hold an extraordinary general meeting on 22 April, immediately after the planned annual general meeting “to ensure an effective, same day handling of the items on the agenda of both [meetings]”.

Like many electrolyser and hydrogen-related companies, HydrogenPro’s shares have slumped over the past three years, falling from a high of NKr74.5 ($6.94) on 20 January 2021 to Nkr12.44 at time of going to press.

Last week, HydrogenPro revealed its annual report that its revenue had increased tenfold in 2023, to NKr568m, but that it still made a loss of NKr63m.

A version of this article first appeared in DN.