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Financial Times: Shell insider likely to be next CEO

By Ed Crooks and Carola Hoyos
Published: April 24 2007 22:09 | Last updated: April 24 2007 22:09

Royal Dutch Shell is likely to appoint an insider as its next chief executive, the company’s chairman said on Tuesday , raising the prospect that Linda Cook, its head of gas and power, could become the first female head of a big international oil group.

Ms Cook is seen as a leading internal candidate to succeed Jeroen van der Veer, the chief executive who recently put back his retirement by a year to June 2009. The other leading contender is Malcolm Brinded, the head of exploration and production.

In his first interview as chairman since being appointed last year, Jorma Ollila, the former chief executive of Nokia, said it was highly recommended that companies appointed chief executives from within.

“The company DNA, when it’s strong, has inherent strong elements,” he said. “That kind of company always benefits when you have a CEO groomed from within.

“When there’s a crisis, and you need to change the corporate culture, and there’s something wrong with the DNA, then you typically might look to hire [outside],” he said. “But Shell is not in that kind of situation.”

Mr Ollila praised Mr Van der Veer, saying the board felt very good about giving him an additional year to implement his strategy. He said it was much too early to start putting a succession procedure in place. He expected this to begin next year, with a decision in 2009.

But his strong preference for an internal appointment suggests that Ms Cook and Mr Brinded are the early front-runners.

Mr Brinded, as head of E&P, runs what is traditionally the most important division in an oil company.

Ms Cook also spent much of her career in E&P, and spent a year at the head of Shell Canada, which is developing the oil sands that are a vital part of Shell’s future.

William Claxton-Smith of Insight, a Shell investor, said: “I am sure succession is on the top of Mr Ollila’s agenda and it will be one of the things we will be discussing with him.”

Neil McMahon, analyst at Sanford Bernstein, the financial services company, said Ms Cook was a likely successor. “She …  has been doing many investor events and comes across well,” he said.

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2007

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