Ecopetrol Seeks New CEO After Sliding Output, Price Slump

Colombia’s Ecopetrol SA said it will search for a new chief executive officer as the worst-performing major crude producer struggles with declining output and slumping oil prices.

Ecopetrol’s board will seek a replacement for CEO Javier Gutierrez, 63, who has led the company since 2007, the board said in a statement today. The board said it aims to present a successor at next year’s shareholders meeting.

“As part of the strategic redirection that the company is implementing, it was decided to start a succession process,” the board said in the statement.

The announcement comes as part of a management shakeup at Ecopetrol where shares have fallen 56 percent in dollar terms to make it the worst performing crude producer with a market value above $10 billion. The company named Camilo Marulanda as director of operations in June and is creating regional operating centers in a bid to be closer to local communities.

The new CEO will also probably face lower oil prices as surging U.S. shale output increases global supply, forcing producers in Colombia to rethink spending plans. Ecopetrol’s board is meeting today to decide next year’s budget and long-term strategy, after crude slumped below $60 a barrel for the first time in five years earlier this week.

Gutierrez will stay on until a successor has been found, the board said. The annual shareholders meeting is tentatively set for the last week of March. Gutierrez didn’t immediately reply to an e-mail seeking comment on his departure.

FARC Attacks

Local protests in Colombia and Marxist guerrilla attacks on oil pipelines have curbed crude output. Average production in the third quarter slid 5.7 percent to the equivalent of 754,800 barrels a day from a year earlier. The Bogota-based company is targeting an average production of 819,000 barrels a day this year.

Members of Colombia’s largest rebel group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, known as FARC, have kept up pipeline attacks as negotiators conduct peace talks in Havana with the Colombian government in a bid to end the Andean nation’s five-decade internal conflict.

Ecopetrol slid Jan. 16 amid speculation that the government might replace Gutierrez. The stock tumbled after Bogota TV news program CMI reported that Gutierrez would leave Ecopetrol as soon as next week.

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