BOB Keiller has decided to retire from the chief executive post at Wood Group at the age of 51, having overseen more than 5,000 job cuts so far this year amid grim times in the oil sector.

He will be succeeded by chief operating officer Robin Watson in what is described by the company as a “very well thought-out transition”.

A spokeswoman for Aberdeen-based oil services giant Wood Group emphasised that it had been entirely North Sea and international oil industry veteran Mr Keiller’s decision to step down. Mr Keiller, who will retire on December 31, highlighted his intention to develop “several business interests”.

Mr Watson, 48, has been on Wood Group’s board since 2013 and became chief operating officer in April this year. The chartered mechanical engineer has more than 25 years of international oil and gas industry experience, having worked previously for Petrofac and Mobil Oil.

Wood Group, with annual sales of around $7 billion (£4.6bn), has a global workforce of around 36,000. Of the 5,000-plus posts it has cut so far in 2015, about 1,000 were in the UK.

The job cuts have come as Wood Group’s revenues and profits have fallen amid extremely tough trading conditions in the North Sea and global oil and gas sector, in the wake of the crude price plunge.

Asked whether the change at the top of Wood Group would signal any change in strategy, the spokeswoman replied: “That is going to be over to Robin. We are in this transition period now, until the end of the year.”

She highlighted the planned nature of the succession.

The spokeswoman said of Mr Watson: “He was made chief operating officer earlier this year. That was all to do with succession planning. This has been a very well thought-out transition.”

Asked if Mr Keiller would receive a pay-off, she replied: “No.”

Mr Keiller’s remuneration totalled £1.33 million in 2014, down from £1.62m in 2013, Wood Group’s annual report shows.

Mr Watson’s remuneration totalled £1.01m last year, up from £845,000 in 2013.

Mr Keiller, who joined Wood Group when it acquired the PSN business and was promoted to his current post in November 2012, said: “I am delighted with the group’s progress over the last five years. I have had the pleasure of working with some wonderful, committed, skilled and innovative people across the world.

“I will miss Wood Group, but will have the satisfaction of knowing that it is in good hands and, on a personal note, I have several business interests that I am looking to develop. I wish Robin and the rest of the executive team every success.”

Wood Group chairman Ian Marchant said: “The group has made significant progress under Bob’s leadership, and the board respects his decision to stand down at this time. Robin was identified as the stand-out candidate to succeed Bob as part of our succession-planning process, and we believe that his knowledge and experience will ensure an orderly transition.

“Robin has been with the group since 2010, has more than 25 years’ oil and gas industry experience, and his appointment provides important continuity for our people and customers.”

Wood Group late last month made a move to diversify from its core oil and gas services business with the acquisition of Automated Technology Group. ATG is one of the UK’s largest independent suppliers of control and power solutions for industrial automation, operating mainly in the automotive, food and beverage, and airport sectors, and employing about 250 people.

Asked if there might be further acquisitions outwith the oil and gas sector, the company spokeswoman replied: “It is too early for Robin to make any comment on that. In this climate, it is just something (we) are looking at. It would be only when it adds value, when it is going to benefit the entire group.”

Shares in Wood Group rose by 26.5p to 683p yesterday, boosted by a better day for oil prices.

Mr Keiller holds 1.615 million shares, a 0.43 per cent stake in the company, worth about £11m. Mr Watson owns 72,541 shares, a 0.02 per cent stake worth about £495,000.

Mr Watson said: “I am delighted and honoured to have the opportunity to lead Wood Group in the next stage of its development. Wood Group is a great success story, thanks to an exceptional leadership team and dedicated people with unparalleled technical expertise…

“I look forward to leading the team as we develop and execute our strategy to support our global customer base as we continue developing innovative and cost-efficient solutions.”