Total names refining boss to replace de Margerie

Wed Oct 22, 2014 11:40am EDT
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By Michel Rose

PARIS (Reuters) - French oil company Total (TOTF.PA: Quote) has appointed refining boss Patrick Pouyanne as chief executive to succeed Christophe de Margerie who was killed in a plane crash in Moscow this week.

Pouyanne, 51, head of refining, had been considered as possible candidate to succeed de Margerie in the past and has a reputation as a shrewd cost-cutter.

The world's fourth largest oil company also named Thierry Desmarest, a former Total CEO, as non-executive chairman. The appointments came less than 48 hours after de Margerie's death.

Desmarest, 68, also previously honorary chairman of the oil group, will keep the chairman position until the end of 2015, after which the roles of CEO and chairman will be combined, Total said in a statement following an emergency board meeting. De Margerie was both chairman and CEO.

Total's choice of a man from the downstream business comes just over a year after rival Royal Dutch Shell (RDSa.L: Quote) elevated Ben van Beurden, who formerly headed the Anglo-Dutch group's refining arm, to become chief executive.

"Being in the downstream gives you more of a feel for costs, which is the big focus of the industry at the moment, whereas in the upstream you get a bit carried away sometimes, it's kind of sexy," Iain Reid, a BMO analyst in London, said.

"In the downstream it's more about manufacturing and hard work - that's what these big oil companies need at the moment."

Under pressure from shareholders, major oil companies have sought to cut capital expenditure swollen during the years of high oil prices. Total initiated a "soft landing" in capex last year and unveiled a plan to cut operating costs last September.   Continued...

Thierry Desmarest, Chairman of French oil company Total, speaks during the company's annual shareholders meeting in Paris May 16, 2008. REUTERS/Benoit Tessier