Three senior executives at Royal Dutch Shell have been identified by shareholders and analysts as potential successors to Peter Voser, who announced he would be stepping down as chief executive next year after five years in the post.
The three are Marvin Odum, who heads Shell's exploration and production – or upstream – division in the Americas; Andy Brown, who runs all other upstream operations; and Simon Henry, the group's chief financial officer, who plays a key role in crafting Shell's corporate strategy.
Mr Voser said he felt it was time for a "change in my lifestyle", adding that he was looking forward to having more time for his family and private life.
Mr Voser's wife lives in his native Switzerland and he commutes to the family home from Shell's headquarters in The Hague, in the Netherlands.
In 2008, when he was first approached for the job of CEO, he reportedly ruled himself out amid expectations that he would take a job in Switzerland, possibly a senior role at UBS, where he served as a non-executive director. He was later persuaded to accept the Shell job.
The decision took investors, analysts and even fellow Shell employees by surprise. "When I heard, I was speechless," says one senior executive who has worked closely with Mr Voser for many years.
Once he steps down, Mr Voser will probably seek non-executive directorships at various companies and non-profit organisations, one person familiar with the matter said.
When asked by reporters why Mr Voser would be stepping down at the age of 55 after only five years as CEO, Mr Henry said he had "quite some time in the limelight" after nine years on the Shell board, and there was a "general expectation that everyone moves on at some time".
Analysts praised his legacy at the company. "He leaves Shell in a much stronger position," said Peter Hutton, of RBC Capital Markets. "He has brought real focus to the business."
He moved into the same role at Shell in 2004 and was appointed CEO five years later.
His time has been marked by the delivery of some of the largest projects in Shell's history, including the $19bn Pearl gas-to-liquids development in Qatar. On his watch the company has emerged as a global leader in liquefied natural gas, with massive LNG projects in Russia, Qatar and Australia and a huge LNG trading business.
But like its rivals, Shell has struggled to increase production and expand its reserve base in a sector where power has passed from the big international oil companies to state-owned behemoths in the Middle East and Russia.
His time as CEO has also been marked by some missteps, such as Shell's scandal-hit foray into the Arctic. It has spent $5bn on an oil exploration campaign in the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas offshore Alaska but has yet to complete a single well there amid persistent regulatory, legal and technical problems.
Mr Voser's announcement came as Shell announced first-quarter profits of $7.5bn, up 3 per cent on a year ago and well ahead of market expectations. The results were helped by improved profit margins in Shell's refining and marketing division as well as increased contributions from trading.