PARIS (AFP) – As Total reeled from the sudden death of its chief executive, the French oil giant faced the pressing question Tuesday of who would fill the void left by Christophe de Margerie, who did not designate a successor.
De Margerie – killed late Monday when his private jet struck a snowplough on takeoff in Moscow – had previously suggested his replacement would come from inside the oil giant, in company tradition.
“In Total culture, it will be someone from the group. I will do what is necessary so that, when the time comes, the board can choose and announce the name of my successor,” the 63-year-old said in a May interview.
He had once said he was in favour of a “smooth transition” but had never designated a successor.
The French oil giant insisted Tuesday it was prepared to deal with events after De Margerie’s death.
“The group is set up to ensure the proper continuity of its governance and its activities, to deal with this tragic event,” Total secretary general Jean-Jacques Guilbaud told reporters at the group’s Paris headquarters.
De Margerie was himself handpicked by predecessor Thierry Desmarest in 2006 to take over as chief executive a year later. In 2010 he was also appointed chairman of the company he had worked for 40 years.
Shortly after his sudden death, Total announced its board of directors would meet “as soon as possible”.
Two names regularly crop up when succession is mentioned at Total, the biggest company in France by revenue, or second-biggest by stock market value.
They are Patrick Pouyanne, head of refining and chemicals, and Philippe Boisseau, head of marketing and services and new energies.
Both men have held various positions in French government ministries, and were tipped as possible successors when appointed to the executive committee in 2012.
“I am not concerned, there are people lower down who are competent even if they don’t have (De Margerie’s) charm,” said Francois Pelegrina of the CFDT trade union.
“For now, Mr Desmarest, who is still there, can take care of things with no problem. After that we need a response quickly,” as to who will take over.
Margerie’s contract had been renewed for three years in 2012 and he could have sought another mandate in 2015 after age limits in the position of chairman were this year increased from 65 to 70 and for chief executive from 65 to 67.
“The succession battle needs to not cause any problems and must be handled responsibly and calmly,” said Eric Sellini, an analyst with RBC Capital Markets.
Total announced in September it planned to reduce costs and investments by 2017 as part of a revised strategy that would allow it to offset weaker growth than expected in its production.