Lasse Stålung: “I never planned to stay”

I meet Lasse Stålung in front of his company KB Plus. He had gone out himself to buy soft drinks for our meeting. We don’t shake hands for the sake of corona-safety but smile and greet each other kindly.

Lasse offers to show me around the buildings that belong to the family business as he tells me about the daily happenings of the business and in his life; I see everything from Lasse and Jiji’s office, the staff office, the warehouse and the roof-terrace while a young boy with fair skin and dark hair zoom around the premises. The buildings are sleek and modern, but with small contrasts of traditional and antique decorations.

We end up in Lasse and Jiji’s office, ready to start the interview.

Photo: KB Plus.

A childhood in Oslo

On an early winters’ day, 16 January, in 1962 a baby boy was greeted into the world by his Norwegian father and Danish mother. He got the name Lasse. Lasse Stålung.

Lasse grew up in a wealthy neighborhood in Oslo, living in a big, white, three-story mansion that once had been an old ambassador estate with his father, mother, older brother and younger sister.

During his early childhood years, Lasse was a active kid with many interests (everything from sports, to music and an interest in his dad’s publishing firm) and a penchant for fairness.

“If a person or situation wasn’t fair, then I wasn’t fair either,” tells Lasse and laughs.

As Lasse describes himself as a child, I can’t help thinking that not much has changed as his stories reflect how I view the Norwegian-Dane even just 30 minutes after meeting him. I also quickly deduct that even as a kid, the Scandinavian man must have been smart and a quick thinker.

“Once, we had a substitute teacher and one of my good friends had been sent out in the courtyard by our other teacher, because he had misbehaved. As the substitute teacher did roll-call, I noticed that one of my classmates wasn’t present because he was sick,” laughs Lasse.

“So, when the substitute teacher called the name of my sick classmate, I raised my hand and said ‘here!’. When the teacher got to my name, I told the teacher that my friend who had been sent out in the courtyard was Lasse and he probably hadn’t heard the bell,” adds Lasse while smiling fondly.

“The substitute teacher went out to get my friend, thinking that he was Lasse and I was somebody else. Of course, my friend wrecked total havoc again. When the substitute teacher came back the day after, followed by the principal who wanted to have a word with “Lasse”, he got horribly confused when I raised my hand,” ends Lasse with a loud laugh.

Lasse had a big interest in music since young age – especially the drums, which he began playing when he was eight. Lasse’s interest in the musical instrument culminated when young Lasse started a band, Abraxas, at the age of 12, where he – of course – was the drummer.

“We never really got good, but we had a lot of fun playing until I turned 18 and the band broke up,” says Lasse and adds that he has recently bought a new set of drums to curb his COVID-boredom.

But despite the young Norwegian-Dane’s interest in music, Lasse’s dream was always to work in the news-industry. The dream was born when Lasse visited the Norwegian daily Dagbladet. The hectic chaos of getting articles written and then ready for print, so the newspaper could be delivered the next morning without fail was what captivated the young boy.

And the dream was almost written in the stars. Lasse’s dad was the Manager of Foreign Media at Narvesen, a chain of news stands in Norway, before he started his own publishing firm. Lasse’s grandfather was also in the news industry as an Editor in Chief at Hamar Arbeiderblad, a local district paper.

“I actually didn’t know when I grew up that my dad and grandfather had been in the news industry. I first found out much later, when I had become an adult,” says the Norwegian-Dane.

“When I was around 4 or 5, I accompanied my dad at a meeting at Politikens Hus – which I can’t even remember. It’s funny that I later started working there,” laughs Lasse

 

A sudden change

Lasse’s childhood changed when he was 10; his father died of a rapidly developing pneumonia. And with that came changes: Lasse lost a parent that he looked up to, a fond smile on his face as he describes his father. His mother lost her husband who owned a publishing firm and with that came a dilemma; should she and her kids move into a smaller apartment to make ends meet or should she stay in the mansion while taking a chance and continue the publishing firm’s legacy?

After confiding in her kids, they all agreed that the publishing firm was worth the risk. But with that risk, his mother would worker longer and harder hours, so Lasse and his siblings would have to take over the chores of the house; cleaning, washing and cooking amongst other things.

But they did it – because their mom and the publishing firm was important. With that, Lasse learned to grow up faster to help his family.

As Lasse retells the story, he has a fond look in his eyes. He is silent for a minute – and then in a tone laced with adoration he speaks.

“My mom was just like that. In a time where women were told to shut up and stay home, my mom dared to defy that. My classmates’ parents would tell her all the time to remarry and stay home to take care of her kids. But she never listened.”

“It affected us all greatly, but we stood by each other through it all. That’s why many of my decisions were done for the greater good of the publishing firm,” adds Lasse.

Lasse defines his own teen years as the typical Norwegian teen experiences; parties, a sudden interest in the opposite gender, alcohol and music. But as Lasse tells stories of his family discussing marketing for the publishing firm and his interest in the family business, I think Lasse doesn’t give his teen-self enough credit. Teen-Lasse was mature and responsible in a sense few teenagers going through puberty can be, always willing to help.

When Lasse turned 18, he started his first business; a one-man graphic business that produced content and helped his mother’s publishing firm while also developing crosswords for newspapers. At the same time Lasse dropped out of high school in his first year. Lasse had many conflicts with the teachers and a high percentage of unregistered attendance because of migraines that would leave Lasse dizzy, unfocused and barely conscience.

“I was on the edge of getting kicked out anyway, so I thought: “what reason do I have to stay?”

So, Lasse decided to enroll into Oslo Videregående’s lithographic course and later returned to finish high school in a two-year adult program.

Photo: Sofia S. Flittner-Nielsen.

From Oslo to Copenhagen

Lasse dreamt of studying at the Graphic College Copenhagen (Den Grafiske Højskole, that today has merges with the Danish School of Journalism into the Danish School of Media- and Journalism), as many of his idols and people who inspired him had graduated from the Danish school. Lasse realized it would be extremely difficult getting accepted into the school as the Graphic College Copenhagen only accepted two foreign students per year.

“It was a huge relief, finding out I had gotten accepted. At that moment I was very conflicted of whether I wanted to keep working in the industry and for the family business,” tells Lasse.

Just before Lasse packed his bags and moved to Denmark, he got married to his first wife at the age of 23, who became pregnant not long after. So, despite being proud of getting accepted into the prestigious school, Lasse didn’t plan on staying in Denmark after graduating.

“My plan was, that as soon as I had gotten my diploma, I would be on my merry way back to Norway,” laughs Lasse.

The reason why? Denmark and Danish people were simply too boring.

But as you can expect, things didn’t turn out as Lasse originally had planned. After a year Lasse didn’t want to return to Norway; Denmark wasn’t actually that boring and Danes were freer and more open in their approach to life.

While Lasse was in Denmark, his first daughter was born in 1986. A baby girl named Pernille. Not long after, Lasse and his first wife got divorced.

 

A flying start

Right after the young Norwegian-Dane graduated from the Graphic College Copenhagen in 1987, Lasse got a flying start right off the bat at the Danish business Dystan, where Lasse stayed for 7 years. During this time at Dystan, Lasse found love for the second time with a Danish girl.

“I met her while I was drunk at a bar in West Jutland. She worked there and I thought she was cute. Also, very strong,” laughs Lasse.

The two lovebirds stayed in contact when Lasse went back to Copenhagen. Not much time passed before they were married and had welcomed two baby boys, Nicholai and Benjamin, into the world.

Just barely after the two boys had been born in 1991 and 1993, Lasse got headhunted for the company Schultz where he stayed for one year. Then he got headhunted again, this time for a position at Politikens Hus where Lasse ended up staying 11 years.

“I remember the feeling that it was right where I belonged,” smiles Lasse.

At Politiken, Lasse got a excellent start after his first project where he found a way to integrate text and pictures while being full of knowledge and confident in his skills. After his success, Lasse was placed in several prominent projects over the years. In the end the Norwegian-Dane had his own office overlooking the Town Square in Copenhagen (Rådshuspladsen) and was the Administrative Manager for the then merged JP/Politikens Hus.

“It was the best job I have ever had,” tells Lasse.

But then Lasse was offered an executive position at the new company called De Gule Sider in 2006. And despite being happy and content with his position at JP/Politikens Hus, Lasse decided to take De Gule Sider’s offer.

“It was new, exciting and would come with new challenges. But it was very much a wrong decision,”

Needless to say, Lasse left the new company the same year.

Lasse, Jiji and their son Christian. Photo: Sofia S. Flittner-Nielsen

An offer in Thailand

At this point, Lasse, his wife and their kids had fallen in love with Thailand after their first trip to the Southeast Asian country in 2005; the weather, the people, the culture and the scenery was great. And so, the husband and wife decided to buy a vacation apartment for the family.

But two years passed since they bought the apartment, and things had changed between them. The couple had grown apart. After 18 years of marriage, the couple got separated, and shortly after divorced, but still decided to travel to Phuket together during the Christmas in 2008. While the newly split couple and their two sons, Nicholai and Benjamin, were on vacation in Thailand, Lasse got a job offer at a property project in Phuket. Of course, he accepted the proposition.

“I had always dreamt of living in the South where it is warm, and you go out to meet people and socialize. It also helps with my migraines,” laughs Lasse.

So, Lasse travelled home to Denmark with his family at the end of December 2008 but returned to Thailand on 4 February 2009 – ready to take on the condo-building project with Naveen Development. But things quickly went south.

“It went like shit. Almost as soon as I got out here, the investors of the project disappeared,” Lasse says.

In a desperate attempt to not let the project fail, Lasse and two others set out to find new investors. They were successful – just until the 2009 demonstrations in Thailand. Due to the uncertainty of the situation, the new investors pulled out from the project. Finally, after 1,5 years the project was closed permanently, and Lasse started making plans to return to Denmark.

Despite the failure of the botched building project, something great came out of Lasse’s choice to travel to Thailand. Lasse had come into contact with a sweet Thai woman going by the name of Jiji, who had plans to come to Phuket on a small vacation to meet Lasse. Lasse bears a small smile as he recalls the past.

“Jiji and her friend came out of the plane, saw me and then exclaimed: “But you’re fat?!”, laughs Lasse. Jiji was supposed to only stay in Phuket for three days but ended up staying much longer. When Jiji went back to Bangkok, the two quickly agreed that Lasse should visit her there.

“I hadn’t even considered that I would stay in Bangkok when I left Phuket. But our relationship developed quickly,” says Lasse, who explains that the couple moved in together as soon as Lasse arrived in Bangkok.

When Jiji picked Lasse up in Bangkok they drove directly to Pattaya, where Lasse met her brother – of course, with the intention that Lasse had to be approved before the Scandinavian met the rest of Jiji’s family, who accepted him into their family quickly.

Once again, Lasse’s plans to return to Scandinavia didn’t come to fruition.

Lasse Stålung holding his first speech as Chairman at the 100 year anniversary of Scandinavian Society Siam. Photo: Scandinavian Society Siam.

A happy ending in Thailand

After settling down with Jiji in Bangkok, Lasse started looking for a job, which proved to be difficult.

“I was looking constantly but I just couldn’t find anything that would suit me and my skills. But then Jiji started to ask if I couldn’t help with this, and then if I could help with that and so on. Suddenly I had become a vital part of the business,” says Lasse, who is now the General Manager at KB Plus.

KB Plus is a trade-company that makes sure fashion products are ready for production, while also checking the quality of each product and assembling separate pieces. The company was first started in 2005 by Lasse’s wife Jiji.

“It was Jiji’s business from the beginning and she is more than capable. I can’t run the business without her, but she can do it without me,” adds Lasse and laughs.

The couple got married 12 January 2012, after two years of living together. Their relationship was strong from the start with both looking for more than just a short fling. On 22 April 2015 Jiji gave birth to their son Christian, who was named after Christian the 8th., the Danish King who was the king of both Denmark and Norway.

The next years after the birth of Christian, Lasse’s life was stable. The business was thriving due to his and Jiji’s hard work while he had the joy of a loving wife and son.

Lasse was elected chairman of Scandinavian Society Siam in 2019. A position filled with frustrations in the early period due to economic complications and a lack of time as Lasse had to juggle his private life, his business and his position of chairman.

“It has been challenging but also very fun and rewarding,” smiles Lasse.

The Scandinavian community radiates a positive atmosphere due to the close bonds between Nordic nationalities, where people can enjoy the Scandinavian culture and their heritage.

“We want to be the social foundation for Nordic expats in Thailand. We don’t want to compete with anybody,” says Lasse.

As we near the end of our talk, Lasse tells me stories about how he became a grandfather for the first time in the summer of 2019, how he thought he was too old to become a father again, how much he respects and cares for his father-in-law and how his paternal grandfather changed his surname from Olavsen to Stålung under World War II because a prominent Norwegian Nazi had the same surname.

It is no longer an interview but just a pleasant chat between two Scandinavians. Jiji interrupts to ask when they should go out for dinner, and before I can blink, they have asked me to join them. Seafood is on the menu – how could I possibly say no?

A pleasant way to end our meeting. Photo: Sofia S. Flittner-Nielsen.

 

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  1 comment for “Lasse Stålung: “I never planned to stay”

  1. Avatar
    June 10, 2020 at 05:37

    Hi
    I am living in koh pahnang with my own hotel business and would be grateful to receive the magazine
    Best regards
    Stig

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