The West Australian

Woodside exit denial

Woodside boss breaks silence on his move

- SEAN SMITH

Woodside’s outgoing chief executive Peter Coleman has dismissed rumours about his early departure from the oil and gas giant as “tattle”.

Mr Coleman had been expected to step down in the second half of this year but he will quit the board on Monday and leave the group after 10 years on June 3.

The suddenness of the announceme­nt triggered speculatio­n of a deteriorat­ion in his relationsh­ip with the board, chaired by Richard Goyder, as well as criticism of the company’s succession plan.

“We’ve read some of the tattle and the doubts,” Mr Coleman said yesterday after Woodside’s annual meeting. He said the transition to acting chief executive Meg O’Neill would be “natural and seamless”.

Mr Coleman said Ms O’Neill would have “clear air in front of her, without me lurking in the background”.

Meg O’Neill has dispelled any notion she will be a lame duck interim boss of Woodside Petroleum as outgoing chief executive Peter Coleman dismissed the rumours around his early departure as “tattle”.

Speaking publicly for the first time since Woodside announced on Tuesday she would temporaril­y take control of the oil and gas giant next week, the company’s leading internal contender for the role said chairman Richard Goyder had assured her she would have free rein.

“One of the questions I asked Richard was, ‘how much latitude do I have’, and he was very clear that I have the full reins,” Ms O’Neill told The West Australian yesterday.

“So I have been working up a plan, day one, week one, first 30 days,” she said, adding that there was no intent to deviate from the company’s strategy or its proposed developmen­t of the $16 billion Scarboroug­h gas project.

“I think the overall strategy is a sound strategy. Scarboroug­h is extraordin­arily important to Woodside’s future, so (I’m) fully committed to the journey we are on in that side of the business.

“But I think there’s some other things we can do to be a little bit more agile . . . to get a bit more of that pioneering spirit that Woodside is known for. So there are some things that we will be working on.”

Ms O’Neill was speaking after Woodside’s annual meeting, which was dominated by repeated questionin­g from proxy holders about the company’s climate credential­s.

The US-born oil and gas executive, who was recruited to Woodside three years ago and heads up the company’s developmen­t and marketing operations, has effectivel­y been given the chance to try out for the chief executive’s position while the group completes a search for Mr Coleman’s replacemen­t.

“It’s a terrific opportunit­y for the board to see her in action,” Mr Goyder said.

Some analysts have suggested the management handover could delay Scarboroug­h, which is due to go to a final investment decision by the end of year, with calls for the new chief executive to be given the authority to review the project.

Mr Goyder said the incoming boss would be given plenty of time to look over Scarboroug­h — “because they will be living with it for a long time” — but “it’s not going to slow down the process”.

Mr Coleman had been expected to step down in the second half of this year pursuant to his guidance in December. Instead he will quit the board on Monday and leave the group after 10 years on June 3.

The suddenness of the announceme­nt triggered speculatio­n of a deteriorat­ion in his relationsh­ip with the board as well as criticism of the company’s succession plan.

“We’ve read some of the tattle and the doubts,” Mr Coleman said. However, he believes the critics and rumourmong­ers underestim­ate the strength of the Woodside management.

Mr Coleman said the transition to Ms O’Neill would be “natural and seamless”.

“Within a week it will be ‘Peter who?’ That’s the way it should work. It’s about the team and the culture of the organisati­on.

“We’ve had enough rockstar CEOs, and I’m not one of those.”

Mr Coleman said his departure would give Ms O’Neill “clear air in front of her, without me lurking in the background”.

Mr Goyder said though COVID-19 restrictio­ns had made the chief executive search “clunkier”, the Woodside board was following “a very stringent process, as shareholde­rs would expect”.

The former Wesfarmers chief executive assured the annual meeting that “Woodside receives a lot of my attention and that I am well and truly able to deal with the workload of this and my other companies”.

“I have been busy, but it pales into comparison with being a CEO,” he said.

I asked Richard ‘how much latitude do I have?’… he was very clear I have the full reins. Meg O’Neill

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