As Norway basks in a long weekend holiday, the country’s biggest and best-known shipowner, John Fredriksen, is about to celebrate a milestone birthday as he turns 80.

JF, as he is widely referred to in the industry, has been in the shipping spotlight for good and not-so-good for most of his career.

Today there is added interest and some fascination in a man of his business acumen, wealth and notoriety who is still hard at work in his 80th year.

And Fredriksen is still fully immersed in his wide-ranging shipping businesses, which today include tankers, bulkers, LNG carriers and drilling rigs.

Those who follow his business dealings described him as “amazingly engaged”, particularly on the tanker side of his empire, which is largely focused in Oslo and New York-listed Frontline, the company that catapulted his fortunes upwards after a takeover in the 1990s.

They speak of Fredriksen — who started out as a shipbroker — as having an eye for detail, with employees being questioned daily on tanker fixtures that they may need to justify to the main man.

One man who has worked with Fredriksen spoke about his “impressive memory”, “energy” and “drive to do deals”, despite the scale of the group and the challenges he might face.

Given the Fredriksen system now spans public companies in every mainstream shipping sector and a vast private fleet that collectively runs to more than 300 vessels worth more than $18bn, the deal flow and different requirements are vast.

John Fredriksen and partner Maryam Mohaghegh spotted along the Kings Road, Chelsea. Photo: Jeff Gilbert/DN

What has been politely referred to as Fredriksen’s “incredibly streamlined” organisation is legendary, with some questioning if this way of working is still robust for such a large business empire.

Brokers said sales and newbuilding deals for his group businesses are handled by a small team.

John Fredriksen: wealth
  • On Forbes’ World Billionaires List 2024, which came out in March, John Fredriksen is logged in 108th position. His net worth is listed at $16.9bn and its sources are listed as “shipping” and, perhaps satisfyingly to its subject, “self made”.
  • In the shipping stakes, Fredriksen is sandwiched somewhere in between the Ofer brothers. Eyal is 84th on $24bn and Idan is 120th with $15.8bn.
Source: Forbes

Norway-based Lars Erich Nilsen and Thorolf Aurstad along with Ben Mills in London are named as among those in his inner circle.


There is widespread respect and some admiration for what Fredrisen has achieved, his navigation of business cycles, risk-taking, treatment of shareholders and overall timing.

Nordea Asset Management portfolio manager Jon Hille-Walle said Fredriksen has had a special approach in that his companies should not sit on cash but pay it back in dividends to the shareholders. If more capital is needed, they raise it in the market.

He said Fredriksen is always prepared to take his share and also willing to underwrite a whole deal. “That makes him rather unique,” he said, which wins him premium pricing for his companies and trust from the market. “It is a tool that he uses.”

The birthday boy’s recent tanglings with the Saverys family — Fredriksen apparently has long-standing respect for Marc Saverys, who was one of the first to do business with him after his spell in prison in the 1970s — over Euronav are a particular focus.

Tanker king returns

Peter Georgiopoulos of General Maritime and John Fredriksen attend RS Platou’s Posidonia party in 2010. Photo: Julian Bray

“He has proved himself as the tanker king in going for Euronav,” one broker said. He had the vision and the guts to do it. It’s a great achievement and the share price shows that. He has still got it.”

“I was very impressed,” a former employee added. “I didn’t think he was going to be able to pull it off.

“Thinking about it in hindsight, it’s probably unfair to be surprised. Once he starts going he’s hard to get rid of.”

The Fredriksen Group
  • owns the world’s largest fleet of crude tankers at 72 units in the water aggregating nearly 2Om dwt with further 11 tankers on order
  • with 42 VLCCs and six more on order, Fredriksen, via Frontline and private venture Seatankers, is second in that sector behind only China Merchants Group
  • the group is sixth in the total number of bulk carriers with 1O7 in the water and 11 on order, aggregating 16.7m dwt and third in the largest bulker category, capesizes, with 62 operating and four under construction
  • by market capitalisation, flagship tanker company Frontline is the largest on the New York Stock Exchange at $5.97bn this week. Bulker owner Golden Ocean Group is neck-and-neck with Star Bulk Carriers of Greece for the largest in dry bulk, with each company worth around $2.97bn. Flex LNG and Avance Gas are among the largest gas carrier owners in their space, while the most consistent cash cow is leasing venture SFL Corp
Source: Clarksons Shipping Intelligence Network
John Fredriksen relaxes in the back garden of his home, the Old Rectory, in Chelsea, London in 2012 Photo: Trond Lillestolen

Today Fredriksen is mainly based in London. He famously bought a house in Chelsea — The Old Rectory — in 2001 for $37m.

Associates talk of him walking from his Sloane Square office to “Colbert”, a restaurant where he has his own table.

He also works out of Oslo, takes his private jet out to his large villa in Marbella with partner Maryam Mohaghegh and enjoys salmon fishing in Scandinavia and Scotland.

His twin daughters, Cecilie and Kathrine, appear less engaged in his businesses today. “Everyone’s families are difficult,” one tanker shipping voice commented quietly.

Swimming on

Those who have spent time with Fredriksen said he can appear taciturn or even shy. Others said that with age he has been more selective about who he surrounds himself with, suggesting that he has perhaps been burned by some of his relationships. But another said: “He is still a fun guy, when he wants to be.”

TradeWinds understands that Fredriksen is celebrating his birthday in Monaco with a party. Hints about the guest list do not indicate a small family affair but those in the know are guarding the details.

Asked about whether Fredriksen will continue on in shipping, one associate replied obliquely: “The great white sharks must keep swimming, hunting prey. Otherwise they suffocate.”

Fredriksen has doled out advice that retirement leads to death with his Forbes page carrying his line: “I've been doing this for 50 years. If I stopped I would probably drop dead.”

Superfan Robert Bugbee spoke about what defines the shipowner.

“It’s that fight, that will to win,” the Scorpio Tankers president said.

“That willingness to fight — whether it’s for survival, which he’s had to do more than once — or whether it’s amid the heights of success that he’s achieved in becoming the greatest tanker owner of all time.”

Bugbee recalled an earlier conversation with his hero about money in which Fredriksen said: “I’m worth more than $1bn, and I still do this because I love it.”

“So if you’re wondering what it means for him to turn 80 — is he going to continue?” Bugbee said. “I think of that conversation, how much he loves the industry, and there’s no price that would make him leave it.”

Jonas Cho Walsgard, Matt Coyne, Andy Pierce and Joe Brady contributed to this article.