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Perth lands coup in change at Shell helm

The Sydney Morning Herald


Saturday, June 5, 2010

ANN Pickard, the most powerful woman in Australia’s oil and gas industry, has wrested control of Royal Dutch Shell’s far-reaching operations in the country from Melbourne to Perth.

It comes as Shell prepares to become the biggest corporate investor in Australia through its involvement in tens of billions of dollars of gas projects in Western Australia and Queensland, including the Gorgon and Prelude ventures.

Ms Pickard’s appointment as chairman of Shell Australia, replacing Russell Caplan who is retiring after 42 years with Shell, is another coup for Perth at the same time as further weakening Melbourne’s once-proud title as the capital of the country’s resource sector.

Just eight months ago Rio Tinto restructured its reporting lines, with Perth-based iron ore boss Sam Walsh taking charge of the miner’s Australian corporate office.

There is also perennial speculation that BHP Billiton chief executive Marius Kloppers wants to downsize or even close the Melbourne head office and move to Perth to be closer to the miner’s iron ore, nickel and petroleum operations.

Mrs Pickard (pictured below) arrived in Perth three months ago to take up the reins as head of Shell’s Australian upstream business and with a self-proclaimed mandate to change Shell’s upstream status from non-operator to that of an operator.

Up until then the 54-year-old American-born executive had run Shell’s sub-Sahara Africa unit, including the troubled but hugely important Nigeria division.

Ms Pickard’s arrival in Perth sparked speculation she had also been charged by new Shell chief executive Peter Voser with fixing relations with Woodside Petroleum, in which the Anglo-Dutch oil and gas giant has a 34.3 per cent shareholding.

The Woodside-Shell relationship has been at best strained over the past decade, affected by Shell’s hostile takeover bids in 2000-01.

Sources have suggested that a changing of the guard at Shell’s head office in The Hague over the past year, including Mr Voser’s appointment and the departure of the company’s erstwhile gas boss, Linda Cook, also sparked a change in attitude towards Woodside.

Woodside chief executive Don Voelte, who is a close personal friend of Ms Pickard’s, is likely to welcome her promotion.

Ms Pickard will take over the chairmanship of Shell Australia on August 1.


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