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Cook in pole position in race to be Shell chief

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Cook in pole position in race to be Shell chief

By Ed Crooks, Energy Editor

Published: July 7 2008 23:37 | Last updated: July 7 2008 23:37

Linda Cook, the head of gas and power at Royal Dutch Shell, has moved into pole position to be the first woman chief executive of a major international oil company, after Peter Voser, the company’s chief financial officer, was reported to have dropped out of the race.

Her appointment would be a historic moment in the traditionally macho world of the oil industry, where women are generally under-represented in the workforce.

Jeroen van der Veer, Shell’s chief executive, retires next June, and the company plans to appoint a successor next year.

External candidates will be considered, but Jorma Ollila, the chairman, told the Financial Times last year he favoured an internal appointment.

Ms Cook and Mr Voser had been seen as the leading candidates, along with Malcolm Brinded, the head of exploration and production.

All three are beneficiaries of a controversial incentive plan to reward them for staying in post until 2011, worth €1m (£795,000) each. One in three shareholders voted against the plan in May.

Mr Voser, who worked for Shell for 20 years from 1982, left to be chief financial officer of Asea Brown Boveri in Switzerland in 2002 but rejoined Shell in the same role in 2004.

He regularly presented the company’s financial results alongside Mr van der Veer and was the favourite for the succession among many investment analysts.

However, he now appears not to be in the running.

Dow Jones, the news agency, reported on Monday that he was “entering talks that may result in a senior position at UBS”. Mr Voser has been suggested as a contender for the chairman’s job at the bank, where he is already a director and head of the audit committee.

UBS refused to comment on Monday.

Shell would only repeat that “the chairman has said that an internal successor for Jeroen is most likely, but that there will be an external search also”.

Mr Voser’s exit from the race established Ms Cook as the clear favourite.

She runs Shell’s gas business, one of the company’s most important divisions, particularly because of its world-leading position in liquefied natural gas.

Mr Brinded runs the key exploration and production division, but has presided over a steady decline in production volumes. Born in 1953, he is also five years older than Ms Cook, although his age does not present any official barrier to his appointment.

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