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Finance officer Peter Voser takes command at Royal Dutch Shell

Times Online
The Times
October 30, 2008

Royal Dutch Shell, the world’s second-largest oil company, named Peter Voser, its chief financial officer, as its new chief executive yesterday.

Swiss-born Mr Voser, 50, will replace Jeroen van der Veer on July 1 next year.

The Anglo-Dutch group said that the appointment of Mr Voser came after a review of both internal and external candidates. He saw off two other Shell candidates: Linda Cook, the American head of Shell’s Gas and Power business, and Malcolm Brinded, the British head of exploration and production.

As chief executive of an oil company that is second only to US giant Exxon Mobil in size, the rewards will be handsome.

Mr Voser, who joined the company in 1982 but from 2002 spent two years away as chief financial officer of ABB, the Swiss engineering group, can expect his total pay roughly to double from £1.6million last year.

Jorma Ollila, Shell’s chairman, said: “Peter has the experience, qualities and personal leadership to drive Shell forward, building on the strong position established by Jeroen van der Veer.”

Shell is expected to unveil third-quarter profits today of $7.2billion (£4.4billion), boosted by sky high oil prices that touched $147 per barrel in July. However, Mr Voser may struggle to match this performance.

The company has maintained its traditional strength in its downstream refining and marketing business but has continued to struggled in exploration and production.

Not only has it failed to make as many big new discoveries as rivals such as BP, the group has a big exposure to Nigeria, where production has been blighted by a simmering civil conflict.

It was also among the first big investors in the costly and environmentally controversial Canadian tar sands business – an industry that is struggling after the price of oil more than halved from its peak to below $70 a barrel yesterday.

Barack Obama has suggested that, if he is elected, his administration may ban the use of oil from tar sands.

At a time when big Western oil companies are finding it harder and harder to gain access to new reserves, Shell’s next big push is likely to be in Iraq, another country where the rewards could be big but which is likely to prove difficult.

As well as booking new reserves and keeping costs under control, Mr Voser will also need to contend with increasingly tough environmental legislation that is likely to alter fundamentally the economics of the oil industry in the years ahead.

Mr Voser is highly regarded by colleagues at Shell. “He is a very safe pair of hands, a great strategic thinker,” said one, who added that he was unlikely to break with Shell’s traditionally consensual leadership style. “He leads through other people.”

While Ms Cook and Mr Brinded will clearly be disappointed to have been overlooked, they can at least look forward to golden handcuffs designed to persuade them to stay on. This year the oil giant offered shares equivalent to their annual salary to

Mr Voser, Mr Brinded and Ms Cook “to enhance retention ahead of the forthcoming board successions”.

Mr Van der Veer, a Dutchman, began his career at Shell in 1971 and has been chief executive since 2005.

The appointment of Mr Voser as his replacement may well settle a succession issue at Shell’s great British rival, BP.

Ironically, one of the external candidates tipped for the Shell job was Paul Skinner, the chairman of Rio Tinto. Mr Skinner is also a former Shell man but is now widely tipped to replace Peter Sutherland as chairman of BP.

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