Shell selects refining chief to replace Peter Voser as CEO


Shell selects refining chief to replace Peter Voser as CEO


LONDON -- Royal Dutch Shell said that Ben van Beurden, the current director of its refining and marketing operations, will become its new chief executive next year, replacing retiring CEO Peter Voser.

The move came as a surprise to some observers of the company, who had expected the board to appoint Chief Financial Officer Simon Henry, or top executives from its high-earning exploration and production division, Marvin Odum or Andrew Brown.

The appointment of Mr. van Beurden may reflect renewed focus on the nuts and bolts of company operations, amid criticism from some investors that Shell isn't generating sufficient returns, analysts said.

"He's going to question every asset and why it deserves to stay in the portfolio," said Jason Kenney, an Edinburgh-based analyst with Banco Santander.

Mr. van Beurden, who is Dutch and a 30-year veteran of the company, only ascended to the top ranks of Shell executives in January, when he took over the running of its refining and marketing business. Before that, he held senior roles in chemicals and manufacturing, and served as private assistant to the company's chairman between 2002 and 2004, Shell said on its website.

Shell's refining and marketing operations are a significant part of the company's global business, but the company's oil and gas exploration and production division is the main earnings driver, producing almost three-quarters of its $7.95 billion profit in the first quarter.

"Ben has deep knowledge of the industry and proven executive experience across a range of Shell businesses," said Shell Chairman Jorma Ollila. Mr. van Beurden will, "generate competitive returns for our shareholders," he said.

Shell said Mr. van Beurden, who will start his new job on Jan. 1, wasn't available to comment on his appointment.

Mr. van Beurden will become CEO as the company grapples with several challenges, particularly concerns from some shareholders that long-term investments in giant oil and gas production projects have been slow to pay off.

The company's heavy spending, expected to be near $34 billion annually until 2015, has also been criticized. The key to the new CEO's resume is his turnaround of Shell's petrochemical operations, which under his tenure, starting in 2006, went from making big losses to a business that is now highly profitable, said Jason Gammel, an analyst at Macquarie Bank.

The appointment reflects an emphasis on clarity and cutting complexity, said RBC Capital Markets analyst Peter Hutton. "I would be very surprised if he changed Shell's vision," Mr. Hutton said. "It's about bringing execution to that vision."

Mr. Hutton noted that the Shell CEO before Mr. Voser, Joeroen van der Veer, also had a background in chemicals. He was widely perceived to have been chosen as a safe pair of hands to steady the company after a period of turmoil.

Mr. van Beurden is the same age as departing CEO Mr. Voser, who ran the company for five years and will retire at 55. He joined Shell at a time when it was being criticized for offering inferior returns, compared with some of its peers and moved quickly to streamline the company, consolidating divisions and cutting jobs.

Dow Jones Newswires

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