Total Names Former Refining Boss to Run New Gas, Renewables Unit

  • Philippe Sauquet ‘will spearhead our ambition in these areas’
  • Former Bostik executive returns to Total as refining chief

Total named Philippe Sauquet, the former boss of the refining and chemicals division, to lead its newly created gas, renewables and power unit in a sign that the oil major sees potential growth in the division.

Sauquet will “spearhead our ambition in these areas,” Patrick Pouyanne, chief executive officer at Total said, in a statement Monday. He will start in the new role on September 1.

The nomination follows Total’s expansion in cleaner energy, beginning with the 2011 acquisition of solar-panel maker SunPower Corp and continuing with the announcement in May of a $1.1 billion deal to buy French battery maker Saft Group SA. Last month Total said it paid as much as 200 million euros ($223 million) for Belgian natural gas and renewable-power retailer Lampiris SA.

Pouyanne “wants to put somebody who he trusts in this new gas, renewables and power area because that’s going to be increasingly important going forward,” Iain Reid, head of oil and gas research at Macquarie Group Ltd., said by phone.

Climate Pledge

Total was among major European energy producers including Royal Dutch Shell Plc who published an open letter on climate change last year, pledging support for putting a price on carbon emissions while also promoting natural gas as a cleaner alternative to coal and oil. Shell began producing more gas than oil in 2013 and Total the following year.

Sauquet has been leading the refining and chemicals unit at Total since October 2014, having formerly run the gas and power division. Pouyanne himself was in charge of refining and chemicals until he replaced his boss Christophe de Margerie, who died in a plane crash in Moscow two years ago.

“It will be a challenge for Sauquet because there’s a lot to be done in the newly created gas, renewables and power branch,” Alexandre Andlauer, a Paris-based analyst at AlphaValue SA, said by phone. “The refining and chemicals branch was more mature.”.

Still, Bernard Pinatel, who will succeed Sauquet as President of refining and chemicals, faces turbulence as the division contends with protests against changes in France’s labor law. All Total’s refineries were forced to halt or reduce output because of strikes in recent months and some retail filling stations were closed because they couldn’t get supplies. Europe’s biggest refiner is reducing capacity, now operating five French plants compared with 24 in 1977.

Pinatel was a former executive at Bostik adhesives business when Total agreed to sell the unit to Arkema SA two years ago.

The announced management changes won’t really “change the overall thrust of what Total are doing, which is basically getting a lot more efficient and lower break-evens, particularly in downstream,” Macquarie’s Reid said.

Pinatel will be part of the executive committee, which includes Pouyanne, Sauquet, Chief Financial Officer Patrick de la Chevardiere, as well as Arnaud Breuillac, president of exploration and production.