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Shell CEO to step down, hand reins to renewables chief

By AFP - Sep 18,2022 - Last updated at Sep 18,2022

LONDON — Shell on Thursday announced the exit of Chief Executive Ben van Beurden as the British oil and gas giant looks to reinvent itself under group renewables boss Wael Sawan.

Dutchman van Beurden, 64, will step down at the end of 2022 after nine years in charge of the energy major and nearly four decades as a Shell employee.

Van Beurden has presided over rollercoaster oil prices fuelled by the COVID pandemic and Russian invasion of Ukraine, as well as overseeing a major corporate overhaul that saw it ditch "Royal Dutch" from its name.

The outgoing CEO "can look back with great pride on an extraordinary 39-year Shell career", Chairman Andrew Mackenzie said in a statement.

He said van Beurden had been "in the vanguard for the transition of Shell to a net zero emissions energy business by 2050", adding that he "leaves a financially strong and profitable company".

Oil and gas prices have rocketed this year, leaving Shell "with a robust balance sheet, very strong cash generation capability and a compelling set of options for growth", Mackenzie added.

Shell has faced strong criticism over its net-zero plans from the environmental lobby, which accuses it of "greenwashing", or marketing a company as overly climate-friendly.

Energy companies and businesses generally are seeking to slash carbon emissions in line with government targets on tackling climate change.

 

 Strategy 'tweaks' 

 

Shell hopes Beirut-born Sawan, 48, will boost the transition plans.

"For a group whose renewable strategy has been somewhat vague, though grand sounding, this is a clear marker that Shell intends to change this," said Hargreaves Lansdown analyst Sophie Lund-Yates.

"Change won't happen overnight, but it's reasonable to think that at least tweaks to the existing renewable strategy could be on the cards."

Mackenzie called Sawan "an exceptional leader, with all the qualities needed to drive Shell safely and profitably through its next phase of transition and growth".

The incoming boss had a "track record of commercial, operational and transformational success" and a deep understanding of Shell and the broader energy sector, the chairman added.

A dual Lebanese-Canadian national, Sawan has worked at Shell for 25 years in various roles in Europe, Africa, Asia and the Americas.

He is currently director of integrated gas, renewables and energy solutions.

"I'm looking forward to... grasp the opportunities presented by the energy transition," Sawan said in a statement.

 

Oil price boom 

 

Van Beurden's tenure included oil prices collapsing into negative territory in 2020, as COVID lockdowns ravaged demand.

Shell dived into a net loss of $21.7 billion in 2020 as factories shut and planes were grounded. 

That resulted in the group shedding thousands of jobs, mirroring the likes of British rival BP.

Oil prices have since rebounded sharply after economies reopened from pandemic lockdowns and following the attack on Ukraine by major crude producer Russia.

Gas prices have also surged owing to the conflict, resulting in Shell's net profits rocketing more than five-fold to $18 billion in the second quarter of this year.

This even as van Beurden carried out Shell's costly withdrawal from Russian gas and oil.

Soaring profits for Shell and BP come as Britain's faces a cost-of-living crisis, igniting calls for the pair to be slapped with a far higher windfall tax than unveiled earlier this year by former finance minister Rishi Sunak.

Last year, Van Beurden ushered in a simplification of Shell's complex structure, switching headquarters from The Netherlands to the UK and axing Royal Dutch from the front of its name.

Van Beurden, appointed CEO in January 2014, will continue to work as advisor to the board until mid-2023. 

Shell's share price was largely flat in morning deals on London's rising stock market.

 

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