Shell PLC SHEL-N has turned to the Canadian-Lebanese head of its integrated gas and renewables business to take the reins as chief executive when Ben van Beurden steps down at the end of the year, underscoring the company’s focus on its lower-carbon business.
Wael Sawan’s appointment comes at a pivotal time for the oil giant, which is aiming to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions to net-zero by 2050 and is moving away from fossil fuels.
A dual citizen of Canada and Lebanon, Mr. Sawan was born in Beirut and grew up in Dubai. He holds a master’s degree in chemical engineering from McGill University and an MBA from Harvard Business School, and is currently based in The Hague.
Previously the head of Shell’s oil and gas production business, he now oversees the low-carbon energies and gas sides of the business.
Credit Suisse analysts said Mr. Sawan was well-known to investors and expected his appointment to have limited impact on Shell’s strategy. Credit Suisse Asset Management is a top five shareholder in Shell.
Analysts from RBC Capital said the shift under Mr. Sawan is likely to be more of a continuation of Shell’s current path, rather than a revolution of the strategy put in place by Mr. van Beurden.
Shell’s chair, Sir Andrew Mackenzie, said in a statement Thursday he was confident that Mr. Sawan would drive the company “safely and profitably through its next phase of transition and growth.
“His track record of commercial, operational and transformational success reflects not only his broad, deep experience and understanding of Shell and the energy sector, but also his strategic clarity,” he said.
Mr. van Beurden leaves Shell after nine years in the top job, and another 30 with the company. He will stay on as adviser to the board until June 30, 2023.
During his tenure, Mr. van Beurden oversaw Shell’s biggest acquisition in decades and steered the company through two major downturns and a crucial move to cut greenhouse emissions – a task that will only grow in importance for his successor.
Mr. van Beurden, who is from The Netherlands, has been focused recently on the relocation of Shell’s headquarters from The Hague to London as well as the energy crisis that has gripped the world in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February.
After the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic and the collapse in energy demand in early 2020, Shell cut its dividend – the world’s largest at the time at around US$15-billion – for the first time since the Second World War. But in July, the company posted record results, with a US$11.5-billion second-quarter profit smashing the mark it set only three months before.
Sir Andrew said Mr. van Beurden leaves Shell a financially strong company with a robust balance sheet. He also praised a series of “bold moves” Mr. van Beurden made whilst at the helm of the company, including the 2016 acquisition of BG Group to create the world’s biggest trader of liquefied natural gas.
“He took firm, decisive action to marshal the company through the global pandemic, seizing the opportunity for a major reset to ensure we emerged fitter, stronger and equipped to succeed in the energy transition,” he said.
Mr. Sawan said in a statement he is looking forward to rising to the challenges and grasping the opportunities presented by the energy transition.
“We will be disciplined and value focused, as we work with our customers and partners to deliver the reliable, affordable and cleaner energy the world needs,” he said.
Mr. Sawan’s appointment is effective Jan. 1, 2023.
With a report from Reuters