Shell shock as gas and power chief quits

Oil company Shell's stock falls after the unexpected departure of gas and power boss Linda Cook.

Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

Shell said today that Linda Cook, head of its gas and power division, will be stepping down from the board ‘by mutual agreement’. The Anglo-Dutch oil giant refused to explain her sudden departure, but the suspicion is that it’s because she lost out in the race to succeed Jerome van der Veer as CEO. Either way, the news hasn’t gone down well with the oil company’s investors, judging by the 2% drop in its share price this morning. Although to be fair, Cook’s unexpected exit isn’t Shell’s only problem at the moment...

Cook, who has been with Shell for 30 years and run the gas and power division for the last five, was apparently one of several candidates for the top job when Shell was appointing van der Veer’s successor back in October. However, she (and the rest) ultimately lost out to CFO Peter Voser, who was widely seen as a ‘safe pair of hands’ choice at a time when Shell has various issues to contend with. As usual in such cases, Shell tried to mollify the jilted candidates by offering them a big fat ‘loyalty bonus’ to stay put – but even the prospect of a reported £825,000 pay-out seemingly wasn’t enough to persuade Cook to stick around until 2011.

Van der Veer paid (a very brief) tribute to Cook today, expressing his gratitude for ‘her many important contributions to the success of our company’ – chief among which has been a 60% rise in Shell’s liquefied natural gas production during her tenure. Shell has generally been struggling a bit on the exploration and production front in recent years, so this has been one of its more successful areas. But it clearly wasn’t enough to make Cook the first ever female head of a big oil company (although quite why she decided to stick around for another eight months we have no idea - perhaps she was hoping to be offered something else?).

Still, at least her decision to forgo the bonus will be welcomed by the near-60% of investors who voted against Shell’s latest remuneration report last week, on the grounds that the top brass didn’t deserve bonuses after missing their performance targets. And that’s not the company’s only serious headache at the moment: over in the US this week, Shell will be hauled across the legal coals over its alleged complicity in the execution of Nigerian activist Ken Saro-Wiwa – likely to be hugely embarrassing, at the very least.

Departing senior staff; an investor revolt; accusations of human rights abuse... It won’t exactly be an easy start to Voser’s reign when he takes over next month...

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