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As anticipated, Chevron Corp. Chairman and CEO John S. Watson confirmed Thursday he would retire, effective Feb. 1 and be succeeded by Vice Chairman Michael K. Wirth, who now oversees midstream and development activity.
Watson, who turns 61 in October, has worked for Chevron for 37 years, eight as chairman and CEO. Rumors surfaced in August that he was ready to step aside. He said he was ready to hand over the reins.
"Mike is a proven leader who is ideally suited to lead Chevron into the next chapter of our history," said Watson. "He has the right values, knowledge and experience, and has established a strong record of accomplishment in his 35 years with the company."
Wirth, 56, joined Chevron in 1982 as a design engineer and advanced through several engineering, construction and operations positions. He has served as executive vice president (EVP) of Midstream and Development since 2016, and in February was named vice chairman.
Wirth was EVP of Downstream & Chemicals for nearly a decade and previously served as president of Global Supply and Trading and president of Marketing for Chevron's Asia/Middle East/Africa business, based in Singapore. As well, Wirth has served on the board for Caltex Australia Ltd. and GS Caltex in South Korea.
Wirth said he appreciated the confidence that the board had placed in him.
"Under John's leadership, we've developed legacy assets in Kazakhstan, Australia and the Permian Basin that will underpin our portfolio for decades to come,” Wirth said. “John will also be remembered for his plain-spoken and principled views on company business and energy policy matters.”
Watson joined Chevron in 1980 as a financial analyst and rose through the ranks to become vice chairman from 2009 to 2010, after serving as EVP for strategy and development. Watson also led the company’s integration effort in 2000 following the Chevron-Texaco merger and then became the corporation’s CFO.
Watson guided Chevron through a tumultuous period following the oil price debacle in late 2014 and was instrumental in moving the company toward building its U.S. portfolio, both in the deepwater Gulf of Mexico and in the onshore, particularly in the Permian Basin. During the second quarter, Chevron turned around a year-ago loss, while production increased and operating costs fell.
"John has done an outstanding job in guiding the company through one of the industry's most tumultuous periods, said lead independent director Ronald D. Sugar. “During John's tenure, Chevron's stock has outperformed its peer companies by a wide margin and he leaves the company well prepared for the future.
“Mike is ready to be Chevron's next chairman and CEO. He has the right business experience and leadership qualities to extend the company's success, and the board has full confidence in his ability to do so."
Watson said he would “miss my daily interactions with our dedicated employees around the world. I am proud of many Chevron accomplishments, but none more so than the improvements we made in process safety and leadership development."
In a related move, Mark A. Nelson, 54, has been named vice president of Midstream, Strategy & Policy, also effective Feb. 1. In his new role, Nelson would be responsible for supply and trading, shipping, pipeline and power operating units. He also would oversee corporate strategy, as well as policy, government and public affairs.
Nelson previously served as the president of International Products, responsible for the refining and marketing businesses in Europe, Africa, Middle East, and Asia. Before that, he was president of Chevron Canada Ltd.