Athabasca Oil Corp. has named a new chief executive officer following a major shift in focus over the past year as it struggled to complete the sale of an oil sands property to its Chinese partner and concentrate on its Alberta light crude holdings.
Athabasca promoted Rob Broen to chief executive officer, replacing Tom Buchanan.
Mr. Buchanan is the company's chairman and has been CEO since founder Sveinung Svarte stepped down last autumn. Mr. Svarte resigned his board seat on Monday, cutting his ties with the firm that went public in 2010.
Mr. Broen is currently president and chief operating officer, having joined the company in November, 2012, as head of the company's light oil division. His promotion did not come as a surprise to analysts.
Mr. Buchanan will remain chairman after he steps down as CEO on April 20, the company said. He will keep that title for 18 months as the board undertakes a governance and leadership review.
"It's not uncommon to see an interim CEO put in place to execute some difficult restructuring, before handing over the reins to the heir apparent," FirstEnergy Capital Corp. analyst Michael Dunn said. "In hindsight, even though Mr. Buchanan's title was never interim, it was seen as not necessarily a long-term position for him."
He took the top job late last year after Athabasca completed the $1.18-billion sale of its 40-per-cent stake in the Dover oil sands project to PetroChina following several months of uncertainty. PetroChina exercised an option in April to acquire the interest following delays in government approvals for the project.
However, the shares came under severe pressure as the proceeds were held up amid a corruption purge in China that had ensnared some executives tied to the state-owned company's Canadian operations. There was no indication of any misdeeds regarding the Dover transaction or Athabasca.
It has been receiving the payment from PetroChina in instalments, though its shares have tumbled further as oil prices have collapsed and the company reduced spending. The stock hit an all-time low this week.
Now, Athabasca is concentrating on its light oil assets in the Duvernay region of Alberta and an early-stage oil sands development known as Hangingstone.
As it has refocused, Athabasca has gone through cost cutting, saying on Tuesday that it has reduced its head-office staff by 50 per cent in the past year. It said it aims to chop its overhead by $60-million in 2016.
Last week, in the company's fourth-quarter results, it said it expects to spend $305-million on its operations, two-thirds of it on the Duvernay light oil properties, where it plans 10 wells.