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Shell finance boss tipped to take over the top job cashed in stock worth £1m days before he suddenly quit

By Rachel Millard For The Daily Mail: 21:58, 15 December 2016 

A finance boss at Royal Dutch Shell who was tipped to take over the top job has suddenly left – just days after he sold stock worth £1million.

Credited with leading the firm’s £41billion takeover of oil and gas group BG last year, Simon Henry was a key lieutenant of chief executive Ben van Beurden.

But the 55-year-old’s departure was announced yesterday to the shock of the markets. Relatively unknown internal finance executive Jessica Uhl has been appointed in his place.

It emerged Henry sold more than £1million of shares on December 1, within 24 hours of the historic Opec deal to cut production that then sent the price of oil soaring.

Shell would not say why the £3.2million-a-year boss was leaving, but issued a statement thanking him for his role in the BG purchase, which increased its oil and gas reserves by around a quarter at a time of falling oil prices.

While there is no suggestion of impropriety, experts were yesterday looking for reasons as to why one of the most influential bosses in the oil industry would suddenly quit.

One source said: ‘It was completely out of the blue. There was no inkling of his departure among staff.’

Alex Brooks, an analyst at Canaccord Genuity, said: ‘The highlight for him has been the BG deal – for good or for ill. It was a massive leverage buyout and they were hoping they would be repaid with the oil price. 

To date that has not worked out. Jessica Uhl is inheriting a challenging situation.’

Retired Shell executive Paddy Briggs said: ‘I think it is quite surprising. There was a period possibly about four or five years ago when he was being talked about as a possible chief executive.

‘If Shell had decided they wanted a finance person as head honcho, then he would have been in the spot. He struck me as being very personable.’

It emerged that on December 1, Henry sold 50,000 shares at £21.63 each, making £1,081,500.

Royal Dutch Shell shares soared 60p from £21.18 at closing on November 30 to £21.78 at closing on December 1, following the cartel of oil-producing nations’ deal to cut production by 1.2m barrels per day in a bid to boost prices.

A company spokesman said Henry, who earned £3,171,000 in 2015, still held ‘significantly above’ the required holding of four times his base annual salary in shares.

She added: ‘All director dealings in shares are reported as per regulatory requirements; this was the only sale of shares made by Simon Henry this year.’ Henry is also an independent non-executive director at Lloyds Banking Group, where he is a member of the audit and risk committees.

The married father-of-three is due to stay in his role at Shell until March 9, after more than 30 years with the company and seven years in his current role.

He is also regional executive director for Asia Pacific, in charge of business development in China, and was group head of investor relations from 2001 to 2004. Henry said: ‘I have been privileged to spend the past 34 years working with great colleagues, in a great company.

‘Together we have made a difference in an industry that really matters to so many people around the world.

‘I wish Jessica every success in the role, and am confident that she and Shell will deliver a world-class investment in the most responsible and sustainable way.’ 

Uhl, 48, is an American citizen who grew up in California, has worked for Enron and Citibank, and is executive vice-president of finance for Royal Dutch Shell’s gas business. She is married and has three children.

Charles Holliday, chairman of Royal Dutch Shell, said: ‘The board is grateful to Simon for strengthening capital management and the balance sheet such as to allow the acquisition of BG and executing that deal.’

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