Ben van Beurden is to quit in December after nine years as CEO of Shell, the company told shareholders this morning.

After 39 years with the supermajor, the Dutch national’s reign at the top saw him streamlining Shell’s labrynthine bureaucracy, and simplifying its anomalous dual “A” and “B” classes of shares.

The “Royal Dutch” legacy in the company’s name was dropped last November, as the company consolidated around a presiding headquarters in London.   The move provoked a hostile reaction from the Netherlands’ economic affairs minister. The company’s shares continue to be traded on Amsterdam’s stock exchange, in addition to the LSE and New York.

Van Beurden’s reforms last year included consolidating its group tax affairs in Britain.  But critics alleged that Shell paid little or no tax in recent years around its upstream extraction operations in the North Sea.   A worldwide capital investment budget of between $23 billion and $27 billion remains overwhelmingly tilted towards continued fossil fuel extraction, they note.

His replacement as CEO will be Lebanese-Canadian dual national Wael Sawan, a Shell employee for 25 years, and currently the company’s director of integrated gas, renewables and energy solutions. Previously Shell’s director of upstream operations, the Beirut-born executive has sat on the global combine’s executive committee for three years.

Praising van Beurden’s record, Shell chair Sir Andrew Mackenzie said: “Ben can look back with great pride on an extraordinary career, culminating his years as an exceptional CEO.

“During the last decade, he has been in the vanguard for the transition of Shell to a net-zero emissions energy business by 2050 and has become a leading industry voice on some of the most important issues affecting society”, the figurehead commented.

“He leaves a financially strong and profitable company with a robust balance sheet, very strong cash generation capability and a compelling set of options for growth”, Mackenzie continued.

In July Shell posted adjusted earnings of $11.5 billion for 2022’s second quarter, lifting the bar on the previous quarter’s record $9.1 billion, and doubling its $5.5 billion earnings from the previous year.

“Ben took firm, decisive action to marshal the company through the global pandemic, seizing the opportunity for a major reset to ensure we emerged fitter, stronger and equipped to succeed in the energy transition”, the chairman commented.

LNG assets and deepwater expansion

Sir Andrew highlighted among van Beurden’s achievements the 2015 purchase of BG Group, the oil and gas company with its roots in British Gas’s divestment in 1997 of Centrica.  Shell’s $ 70 billion acquisition gave it access to BG’s worldwide assets in LNG production. In return BG at the time took 19% of Shell’s equity.

The BG purchase triggered Shell’s $30 billion divestment of non-core assets, a move described by Sir Andrew today as ‘transformational’.

February 2021 saw the launch of Powering Progress, Shell’s detailed blueprint to speed the oil leviathan’s  transition to a net-zero emissions energy business by 2050.

“Ben’s legacy will frame Shell’s success for decades to come.”, said his chair.

Ben van Beurden said: “It has been a privilege and an honour to have served Shell for nearly four decades and to lead the company for the past nine years.

“In my journey from LNG design engineer to CEO, I have been fortunate to work alongside so many talented people from diverse backgrounds – all committed to the company’s goal of providing the world with the essential commodities of modern life. I am very proud of what we have achieved together”, said the departing leader.

“I have great confidence in Wael as my successor. He is a smart, principled and dynamic leader, who I know will continue to serve Shell with conviction and dedication. I wish him and his family all the best for the journey ahead.”

Wael Sawan said: “It’s been a privilege to work alongside Ben and I’m honoured to take over the leadership. I’m looking forward to channelling the pioneering spirit and passion of our incredible people to rise to the immense challenges, and grasp the opportunities presented by the energy transition. We will be disciplined and value focused, as we work with our customers and partners to deliver the reliable, affordable and cleaner energy the world needs.”

Sawan, a 25-year Shell veteran, has a Harvard MBA. His experience includes steering the company’s leadership teams in deepwater, upstream and integrated gas activities.  A period as the firm’s executive president in Qatar are among his postings in Europe, Africa, Asia and the Americas.


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