LONDON (REUTERS) - Royal Dutch Shell's 54-year-old chief executive Peter Voser is to retire next year in a surprise early departure he said was driven by a desire for a change of lifestyle.
The soft-spoken Swiss with a quarter-century career at Europe's top oil company has transformed it since 2009 from sector laggard to a leading position in the burgeoning industry of liquefied natural gas. His departure, though, comes as the company and the industry face huge challenges.
Shell is the western world's No. 2 company by production, behind Exxon Mobil, but like its peers, it is struggling to replace reserves and boost production, and faces a squeeze on earnings as costs rise while the price of oil threatens to fall decisively below the psychologically important US$100 a barrel level.
Analysts say that among the world top oil companies, Shell spends more on exploration per barrel produced than any of its competitors. Its most high-profile exploration failure has been in Alaska where it has spent US$5 billion (S$6.1 billion) since 2006, and has yet to drill a single complete hole.
Meanwhile, thefts, strikes and other issues dog activity in Nigeria, where it is the principal international oil company operator.
"After such an exciting executive career, I feel it is time for a change in my lifestyle, and I am looking forward to having more time available for my family and private life in the years to come," Mr Voser said in a statement on Thursday.
Shell said it would look outside and inside the company for his replacement. A spokesman said Shell had looked outside for CEOs in the past. However, as with most big oil companies, new chief executives traditionally come up through the ranks.
The last of the western world's four biggest oil companies to report results, Shell joined its peers in delivering a result that topped market expectations, thanks in part to strong refining and trading performances.
Adjusted net profit on a current cost of supply basis rose to US$7.5 billion in the first quarter from US$7.3 billion a year ago and compared with expectations of around US$6.5 billion.