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The Times: Shell hires veteran as new chief of finance

The Times: Shell hires veteran as new chief of finance

By Ingrid Mansell

June 25, 2004

SHELL plugged the final hole in its top management yesterday by appointing a 20-year company veteran to replace its ousted finance director.

Peter Voser, who worked for Shell from 1982 to 2002, will rejoin the oil major in October, following a two and a half year stint as chief financial officer of ABB. He is widely credited with turning round the Swiss engineering group.

Analysts said Mr Voser’s most pressing task at Shell would be a “City charm offensive” to restore investor confidence in the company’s management. The boardroom was cleared out after it emerged that the group had massively overstated its oil and gas reserves.

Sir Philip Watts, Shell’s then chairman, and Walter van de Vijver, the exploration chief, were sacked in March. The following month, Judy Boynton, the CFO, stepped down, although she remains an adviser to Shell.

Shares in Shell climbed 7¼p to 416¼p yesterday as investors welcomed the appointment of Mr Voser, 46. Analysts said the oil company had found a happy balance between appeasing critics of the group’s tradition of internal hiring and finding someone who had detailed knowledge of Shell’s operations.

“He has the outside experience that investors were demanding, ” said one analyst. “But after 20 years at Shell, he would also have developed a spy network of friends and acquaintances throughout the company so he will have a clear idea of exactly what is going on most of the time.”

Although Mr Voser was CFO of Shell’s global oil products division and the group’s chief financial auditor from 1997 to 1999, both the company and analysts said he was untainted by the reserves scandal. One analyst said: “He’s a downstream guy. Reserves are an upstream issue.”

Shell said about 20 external and internal candidates had been considered for the role. Although the company insisted that Mr Voser’s role would be broadly similar to that of his predecessor, analysts said Shell needed to ensure that he had “greater stature and importance” within the group.

“I think one of the problems with Judy Boynton is that she was pretty much sidelined from the business,” one analyst said. “She had lots of responsibility without a great deal of authority.” Shell has already changed its reporting structure in the wake of the reserves scandal to ensure that all of Shell’s operational CFOs report to the group CFO.

Shell remained guarded yesterday about the details of the payoffs that Sir Philip and Mr van de Vijver will receive. A spokesman said severance deals for Sir Philip and Mr van de Vijver were still being thrashed out, and refused to say whether they would be unveiled at the company’s annual meeting on Monday.

The meeting is expected to be a fiery affair, as shareholders vent their anger over Shell’s decision to slash provable reserves by nearly a quarter. The move wiped billions off Shell’s market value.

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