Shell is about to get a new boss. Chief Executive Ben van Beurden, who has been in situ since the start of 2014, is likely to step down from the $192 billion oil giant next year, Reuters has reported. Plenty of credible candidates exist to replace him, but one looks the most obvious.
Despite battling with two major oil price slumps and an unprecedented 66% cut to Shell’s dividend in April 2020, Van Beurden’s track record looks acceptable. Since Jan. 1 2014, when he took over, Shell shares have returned 67%, not as good as TotalEnergies’ 85%, but appreciably better than domestic rival BP and U.S. peer Exxon Mobil. He also pulled off the $70 billion purchase of BG Group in 2016, which made it a leading force in liquefied natural gas (LNG).
The problem for Andrew Mackenzie, the Shell chair tasked with identifying Van Beurden’s successor, is that the British energy giant is pulled in opposite directions. A Dutch court has ordered it to slash its 1.6 billion tonnes of annual emissions by 2030, which requires offloading its most polluting operations. But an ongoing energy crisis means oil prices could hover around $100 a barrel for a while, which legitimises hanging around in fossil fuels.
The four internal candidates for the top job all have their merits. Dutchman Huibert Vigeveno heads Shell’s refining operations, which have been making money hand over fist amid record refining margins. Zoe Yujnovich, who heads oil exploration, and Sinead Gorman, who recently joined as chief financial officer, are both well thought of. That said, Shell doesn’t tend to have two Dutch CEOs in a row, and the female candidates are less well known to investors.
By contrast, Canadian Wael Sawan looks ideal. He used to head oil production. But he now runs Shell’s Integrated Gas and Renewables arm – which includes LNG and green activities like solar and wind. LNG, in which Shell has a leading 20% market share, could be the key driver of its medium-term valuation given energy security concerns. Green energy, currently a trifling contributor to revenue, could be the key to supporting Shell’s long-term revenue growth.
While balancing cash-generating fossil fuels and emissions won’t get any easier, Sawan looks the best placed to try.
Shell has shortlisted four candidates to succeed veteran Chief Executive Ben van Beurden who is preparing to step down next year after nearly a decade at the helm of the $192 billion energy firm, two company sources told Reuters.
During his tenure van Beurden oversaw Shell’s biggest acquisition in decades, steered the company through two major downturns and a pivotal move to slash greenhouse emissions.
Shell’s board succession committee, headed by Chairman Andrew Mackenzie, has met several times in recent months to draw up plans for van Beurden’s departure and interview potential successors to the 64-year-old Dutchman, the sources told Reuters.
The successor shortlist includes Wael Sawan, Shell’s head of integrated gas and renewables and Huibert Vigeveno, who heads the company’s refining operations of downstream.
Recently appointed Chief Financial Officer Sinead Gorman and Zoe Yujnovich, head of upstream, are also seen as possible successors, the sources said.
Shell shares were trading at 26.8 euros as of 1000 GMT on Sept. 2, up 1.7%.
George Hay is a Reuters Breakingviews columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.