OIL services giant Petrofac, which has a big North Sea business, has said its chief executive Ayman Asfari is to stand down after 18 years in charge.

The company said Mr Asfari had decided to retire as group chief executive at the end of the year to focus on his family, health and charitable interests.

He will be succeeded by oil and gas sector veteran Sami Iskander who has held big roles with producers such as Royal Dutch Shell and worked for services businesses.

Mr Asfari will be appointed a non-executive director of Petrofac on January 1.

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The announcement of the planned management change comes as Petrofac grapples with the huge challenges posed for oil services firms by the plunge in commodity prices triggered by the coronavirus crisis.

Mr Asfari said he had been planning his retirement for a number of years.

He noted: “There is never a perfect moment to step down, and it has been a difficult decision for me to make. However, I have decided now is the time to hand over the day-to-day running of the company to fresh leadership.”

Mr Asfari said that as a major shareholder in Petrofac he remains deeply invested in the group’s future and is confident it will make continued progress in the coming years.

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In August, Petrofac posted a bottom-line loss of $78 million (£60m) for the six months to June 30. It cited the deterioration in market conditions triggered by the Covid 19 pandemic and subsequent decline in oil prices.

Petrofac’s North Sea staffing numbers have been cut under a drive to reduce group running costs by $125m annually.

Mr Asfari joined Petrofac in 1991 and became chief executive in 2002.

Mr Iskander ran Shell’s upstream joint ventures business from 2016 to 2019 and was accountable for business performance in countries ranging from Egypt to Denmark. Before joining Shell he was chief operating officer of BG, which the Anglo-Dutch group acquired in 2016.

Mr Iskander has also held senior positions at US oil services giant Schlumberger. He is an Egyptian and French national.

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The chief executive of Petrofac's Aberdeen-based rival Wood, Robin Watson, was awarded a CBE in the Queen's delayed Birthday Honours List for services to British engineering, industry and international trade.