SHELL has announced the departure of long-standing chief executive Ben van Beurden, following weeks of speculation that a change at the top was imminent.

The energy giant told the City this morning that Mr van Beurden, who first joined the company in 1983, will step down at the end of the year.

Mr van Beurden, who has been chief executive since 2014, will be succeeded by Wael Sawan, the company’s head of integrated gas, renewables and energy solutions. Mr Sawan, who is Canadian, had been identified as a frontrunner for the role in press reports earlier this month.

Mr Sawan’s appointment will be effective from January 1, 2023, when he will also join Shell’s board of directors. Mr van Beurden will continue working as an adviser to the board until June 30, after which he will leave the company.

The change comes as major oil and gas companies face intense scrutiny over the profits they are making on the back of soaring commodity prices, which have risen steeply since the start of Russia’s war on Ukraine. In July, Shell posted record second-quarter profits of $11.5 billonn, up from $9.1bn, and announced plans to return a further $6bn to shareholders through a buyback it expects to be completed by the time of its third-quarter results.

Shell chairman Sir Andrew Mackenzie said: “Wael Sawan is an exceptional leader, with all the qualities needed to drive Shell safely and profitably through its next phase of transition and -growth. His track-record of commercial, operational and transformational success reflects not only his broad, deep experience and understanding of Shell and the energy sector, but also his strategic clarity.

“He combines these qualities with a passion for people, which enables him to get the best from those around him. The outcome of the board’s managed succession process resulted both in the appointment of an outstanding CEO and proved the strength and depth of Shell’s leadership talent. I look forward to working with Wael as we accelerate the delivery of our strategy.”

Mr Sawan said: “It’s been a privilege to work alongside Ben and I’m honoured to take over the leadership of this great company from him. I’m looking forward to channelling the pioneering spirit and passion of our incredible people to rise to the immense challenges, and grasp the opportunities presented by the energy transition. We will be disciplined and value focused, as we work with our customers and partners to deliver the reliable, affordable and cleaner energy the world needs.”

Mr van Beurden said: “It has been a privilege and an honour to have served Shell for nearly four decades and to lead the company for the past nine years. In my journey from LNG design engineer to CEO, I have been fortunate to work alongside so many talented people from diverse backgrounds – all committed to the company’s goal of providing the world with the essential commodities of modern life.

"I am very proud of what we have achieved together. I have great confidence in Wael as my successor. He is a smart, principled and dynamic leader, who I know will continue to serve Shell with conviction and dedication. I wish him and his family all the best for the journey ahead.”

Sir Andrew added:  “Ben can look back with great pride on an extraordinary 39-year Shell career, culminating in nine years as an exceptional CEO. During the last decade, he has been in the vanguard for the transition of Shell to a net-zero emissions energy business by 2050 and has become a leading industry voice on some of the most important issues affecting society.

"He leaves a financially strong and profitable company with a robust balance sheet, very strong cash generation capability and a compelling set of options for growth."