Shell (SHEL.L) has tapped its head of gas and renewables as its new chief executive as Ben van Beurden departs after almost four decades at the FTSE 100 group.
Ben van Beurden will hand over the reins to the company’s Canadian director of integrated gas, renewables and energy solutions, Wael Sawan.
After resigning as chief executive at the end of this year, the Dutchman will continue to advise the board until next June.
A dual Lebanese-Canadian national born in Beirut, Sawan joined the company in 1997 and has previously run the company’s oil and gas projects in Qatar, its deepwater business from Houston and its upstream division.
He was named head of the integrated gas and renewables business – Shell’s most strategically important division – last year and has been a member of Shell’s executive committee since July 2019.
“I’m looking forward to channelling the pioneering spirit and passion of our incredible people to rise to the immense challenges, and grasp the opportunities presented by the energy transition,” he said.
Sawan, who is based in The Hague, will move to London when he takes over as chief executive.
Under van Beurden‘s leadership, who joined in 1983, Shell had to give up its “Royal Dutch” designation for the first time in more than 100 years as it scrapped its listing in the Netherlands.
The headquarters of Shell also moved to London at the same time, forcing van Beurden to leave his native country – his was one of only a handful of jobs that moved with the office.
But perhaps the most consequential moment of the chief executive’s time in charge was the promise that Shell would become a carbon net zero company by the middle of this century.
For now it is merely a promise for a long time into the future, but Shell also has a target to halve absolute emissions by 2030, compared with where they were in 2016.
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“Ben van Beurden has achieved a lot for shareholders in his near-decade as chief executive of Shell. Principally, he has managed to navigate the company through some uncertain times as the world went ESG-crazy and businesses in the oil and gas industry were viewed as toxic entities not fit for the modern world,” Russ Mould, investment director at AJ Bell, said.
“He has helped to steer Shell towards renewable energy while at the same time capitalising on the sudden surge in the oil price as the world emerged from the pandemic and the Ukraine crisis sent ripples through the energy sector.
“Van Beurden’s resignation comes as Shell’s share price returns to pre-pandemic levels, illustrating how he has steadied the ship and now seems as good a time as any to pass the baton to a new leader,” Mould added.
Big oil chief executives rarely serve longer than 10 years and if Sawan stays as long as van Beurden, he will have to answer for those 2030 environmental targets that were left by his predecessor.
“Shell will enter a new era as chief executive Ben van Beurden steps down after almost a decade at the helm. He’s overseen some remarkable changes as the company ditched its dual share structure, moved headquarters to London, committed to becoming a zero carbon business by 2050, endured a pandemic that saw oil prices collapse and a war in Europe that helped produced record profits,” Neil Wilson, chief market analyst for markets.com, said.
“It’s been a funny old ten years for the oil industry with drilling now in vogue again. With shares up 38% YTD and 60% in the last 12 months, and with the company reporting record profits of $11.5bn in July, he’s leaving on something of a high,” he added.
Watch: Shell names renewables head as CEO