A first lady of oil?

C&I Issue 9, 2007

The starting gun has sounded for the succession battle to see who will take over as chief executive of Royal Dutch Shell when Jeroen van der Veer retires in June 2009. A recent announcement by chairman Jorma Ollia that the candidate will likely be an insider has led to speculation that we may well see the first woman head of an international oil firm.

Among the leading candidates is American Linda Cook, head of gas and power and one of the four most senior executives in the company. Peter Voser, the 48-year-old Swiss who is Shell’s chief financial officer is also a possible successor, but Cook’s main rival is said to be Martin Brinded, head of exploration and production, traditionally the most important division in an oil company.

But Cook has the advantage of youth over Brinded, who at 56 is only three years younger than the outgoing ceo. And, of course, being a woman may not hurt either, although such a move would certainly be mould-breaking, not only in the male-dominated oil industry and among a FTSE 100 almost devoid of women bosses, but also at Shell.

Recent research, however, suggests that female representation at high levels has a positive correlation with company image (Business & Society doi:10.1077/0007650305283332). And in the current environment, oil companies could do with some help. BP has faced severe criticism over its safety record, and in 2004, Shell was embroiled in a hugely embarrassing reserves scandal that wiped out a top tier of leaders.

Oil company results & leadership change
A recent report revealed that deep cuts costs at BP caused pipeline corrision that caused the largest ever onshore oil spill in Alaska. Q1 revenues for BP dropped from $64.7bn in 2006 to $62.7bn in 2007, resulting in a fall in profit before interest and tax from $8.8bn to $7.3bn. Net profit fell from $5.7bn to $4.7bn.

As C&I went to press, BP ceo John Browne stepped down following revelations about his private life. He will forfeit a year’s notice, bonus of over £3.5m and a share plan estimated at more than £12m, opposed by some shareholders (C&I 2007, 8, 4).

US oil major ExxonMobil reported a 10% net income increase to a record level of $9.28bn in Q1 2007 compared with Q1 2006. An improvement in chemicals and refining offset a fall in crude oil and natural gas earnings which fell $342m to $6.04bn. Chemical earnings were up $287m at $1.24bn, due to improved margins, although volumes were down 111 000 t at 6.8m t.

ConocoPhillips saw its Q1 income increase from $2.3bn in 2006 to $3.5bn in 2007, but was only boosted by one-off asset sales.

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