Suncor CEO Rick George to retire, COO to replace him

Thu Dec 1, 2011 4:59pm EST
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By Scott Haggett

CALGARY, Alberta (Reuters) - Suncor Energy (SU.TO: Quote) said on Thursday that Chief Executive Rick George will retire in May, 21 years after taking charge of the company he turned from a small, unprofitable oil sands developer into Canada's largest oil and gas producer.

George will be replaced by Steve Williams, Suncor's chief operating officer, at the company's May annual meeting. Williams was also appointed the company's president on Wednesday and given a seat on the board of directors.

While George's retirement was unexpected, he said succession plans have been in place for years and he is ready to leave.

"I'm 61 years old today and been in the chair over 20 years," George told reporters. "That's a great run ... I think its just a natural progression, one that should take place and there's no perfect time, but today is as good a day as any."

Under George, Suncor's value grew from less than C$1 billion ($983 million) in 1992, when the company took its small oil sands operation, a refinery and regional gas station chain public in 1995, to nearly C$50 billion now.

Suncor is the dominant producer in the oil sands, with plans to nearly double output to one million barrels a day by 2020. It owns refineries in Ontario, Alberta, Quebec and Colorado, has offshore operations in Newfoundland and the North Sea, and produces oil and gas in Libya and Syria.

"Taking (Suncor's value) to C$50 billion was an incredible achievement, Williams told reporters. "My challenge has to be to take it up to C$100 billion."

Williams, 55, a one-time Exxon Mobil Corp (XOM.N: Quote) manager who came to Suncor from Octel, a British specialty chemical company. He's credited with improving the reliability of Suncor's oil sands operations following a series of fires that cut into production and disenchanted investors.   Continued...