Sector News

Diverging Fortunes for Shell, BG Chief Executives

April 9, 2015
News
Royal Dutch Shell PLC’s Ben van Beurden and BG Group’s Helge Lund were both hired as chief executives with turnaround visions for energy companies that had lost their way.
 
Now Mr. van Beurden is looking to lead a newly combined company after Shell’s $69.6 billion bid for BG was accepted. And Mr. Lund finds himself in limbo just two months into his stint at BG.
 
It is an unfamiliar position for both men.
 
Mr. van Beurden, a 56-year-old Dutchman with more than 30 years of experience at Shell, was better known for selling off parts of his company than acquiring new businesses. He had spent much time since arriving in early 2014 on the more prosaic tasks of increasing shareholder value: divesting noncore assets and avoiding risky projects.
 
Mr. Lund, 52 years old, developed a reputation as a mergers-and-acquisitions whiz in 10 years as chief executive of Norwegian oil giant Statoil ASA. He steered the company through a 2007 merger with the oil-and-gas arm of Norsk Hydro ASA, and sold off more than $20 billion in assets from 2010 to 2014.
 
But as the negotiations for a tie-up unfolded between Shell and BG, Mr. Lund appears to have been left on the sidelines.
 
Mr. van Beurden told reporters Wednesday that the talks began with a March 15 meeting with BG Chairman Andrew Gould. Mr. Lund was informed later of the discussions, Mr. Gould said.
 
At a Wednesday news conference in London, Mr. Lund wasn’t present. Mr. van Beurden said he was needed at BG’s headquarters in Reading, southern England—two hours away—to talk to employees and investors.
 
“There is nothing whatsoever to be read in his absence,” Mr. van Beurden said.
 
Mr. van Beurden wasn’t available for an interview. BG didn’t respond to an interview request.
 
The BG deal caps a three-decade career at Shell for Mr. van Beurden, who got his start in 1983 after graduating with a master’s degree in chemical engineering from Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands. By 2006, he had taken over Shell’s chemicals division and turned it around.
 
In his first months as chief executive, Mr. van Beurden split Shell into 150 performance units to evaluate profitability, aiming to repeat his success on a larger scale.
 
He told executives to view their divisions as small units and ask “which could be a small company in its own right?” Those that couldn’t would be sold or closed.
 
In 2014, Shell made $15 billion through the sale of assets and the flotation of its pipeline business in the U.S. Its divestments included shale oil and gas interests in North America and downstream businesses in several countries.
 
“The mantra of being excellent is very necessary, but it is not good enough,” Mr. van Beurden said last year.
 
By contrast, Mr. Lund, a Norwegian known for being down-to-earth compared with other oil executives, used his position to expand Statoil’s global portfolio. He pushed into several new markets—including U.S. shale assets—taking its international output to 744,000 barrels a day in 2014, up 76% since 2007, and countering falling output off Norway.
 
In 2014, he was among the first oil executives to introduce a cost-cutting plan—in February, well before the oil-price plunge.
 
At BG, Mr. Lund was primed to take on a company weighed down by profit warnings, write-downs and lower-than-expected production. His main problems at BG would have been two projects that will soon be in the hands of Mr. van Beurden at Shell: offshore oil fields in Brazil and a natural-gas project in Australia.
 
Mr. Gould of BG said Mr. Lund had been kept abreast of the talks and wasn’t unhappy about them. He said Mr. Lund would run BG until the deal closes.
 
“And then he will do his own thing,” Mr. Gould said.
 
Oslo-based Pareto Securities analyst Trond Omdal said Mr. Lund might be tempted to take over a smaller company, like former BP PLC Chief Executive Tony Hayward did when he took the helm at Genel Energy . He could also serve on corporate boards.
 
By Kjetil Malkenes Hovland and BenÎt Faucon
 

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