* Voser helped Shell recover from 2004 reserves crisis
* He goes as industry faces cost squeeze, price falls
* Shell looking at both external and internal candidates
* CFO Henry, U.S. upstream boss Odum possible contenders
* Shell joins peers in beating Q1 earnings forecasts
By Andrew Callus
LONDON, May 2 (Reuters) - Royal Dutch Shell chief
executive Peter Voser, who built the oil company into a leader
in liquefied natural gas after a reserves accounting scandal, is
to retire next year in a shock early departure.
The softly spoken and widely respected 54-year old Swiss
national took over as finance chief in 2004 amid the board-level
upheaval that followed Shell's dramatic downgrade of reserves
estimates, becoming CEO in 2009.
His exit from a role he is seen to have excelled in
surprised investors, analysts and people inside Europe's biggest
oil company. Two senior members of staff told Reuters they had
no inkling that he would go.
Voser said the move was driven by a desire for a change of
His departure, scheduled for the first half of next year and
announced along with first-quarter results, comes as the company
and its industry face huge challenges.
Shell is the western world's number two company by
production behind Exxon Mobil. But, like its peers, it
is struggling to replace reserves and boost production, and
faces a squeeze on earnings as costs rise while the price of oil
threatens to fall decisively below the psychologically important
$100 a barrel level.
Shell said it would look outside and inside the company for
Voser's replacement. However, as with most big oil companies,
new chief executives traditionally come up through the ranks.
Finance director Simon Henry refused to be drawn on his
prospects for succeeding Voser.
Inside Shell, Henry is regarded as a potential front-runner
along with Marvin Odum, the company's head of upstream
operations in the Americas.
Henry has a mathematics and accounting background even
though, like Odum, he joined the company as an engineer, and is
respected by shareholders who know him from his days as head of
investor relations. Odum, who is about Voser's age, would be
Shell's first American CEO.
Andrew Brown, who became head of international upstream last
year, could be a candidate too, as could director of projects
and technology Matthias Bichsel. One source said Brown's
relatively recent appointment may make him an outside bet, while
Bichsel, born in 1954, might be considered too old for the job.
Voser said his decision to go was a personal one.
"After such an exciting executive career I feel it is time
for a change in my lifestyle and I am looking forward to having
more time available for my family and private life in the years
to come," he said in a statement.
He has been named in media reports as a possible future
chairman of Roche Holding, the drug firm based in his
native Switzerland at which he is already non-executive
But Henry said Voser had indicated he had no plans to take
on new non-executive directorships or chairmanships.
STRONG TRADING, LIKE BP
The last of the western world's four biggest oil companies
to report results, Shell joined its peers on Thursday in
delivering a first-quarter profit that topped market
Henry said the company was well-placed to deal with the
recent fall in oil prices.
"We also think there are quite few players in the market,
quite a few companies, who actually have bet the farm on
$100-plus oil prices. We don't," he said.
Nevertheless, analysts say that among the world's top oil
companies, Shell spends more on exploration per barrel produced
than any of its competitors. Its most high-profile exploration
failure has been in Alaska, where it has spent $5 billion since
2006, and has yet to drill a single complete hole.
Adjusted net profit on a current cost of supply basis rose
to $7.5 billion from $7.3 billion a year ago, compared with
expectations of around $6.5 billion.
As was the case with BP's results on Tuesday, Shell exceeded
expectations by a big margin thanks in large part to its trading
activities, which were not split out from the rest of its