Heavey to step down as Tullow Oil chair in July
Former Drax Group chief Dorothy Thompson to succeed Tullow founder
Tullow Oil chairman Aidan Heavey: departure is a major change for Tullow, which he led from its origins as a penny stock to a FTSE 100 company. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw
Tullow Oil chairman Aidan Heavey will leave the company he founded 33 years ago in July, when former Drax Group chief executive Dorothy Thompson will take over the board’s leadership.
Mr Heavey had been expected to remain until next year. He became chairman after stepping down as chief executive in 2017, with chief operating officer Paul McDade succeeding him.
His departure is a major change for Tullow, which he founded and led from its origins as a penny stock to a FTSE 100 company by 2010.
Tullow’s pioneering success in exploring Atlantic margins and African rift valleys made it a darling of the City of London. Its shares rose to £15 on the London market on the back of this and rising oil prices early in the decade.
Its fortunes turned sharply as oil prices fell 60 per cent four years ago and its stock tumbled to a low of £1.20 at one point.
Nevertheless, the industry regards Tullow and Mr Heavey as trailblazers. “He always hired good people and kept them: he inspired incredible loyalty from those working with him,” one analyst said on Tuesday.
He added that Mr Heavey often used those same personal qualities to ensure deals got done. Mr McDade, exploration director Angus McCoss and Tom Hickey, Tullow’s first chief finance officer, were among the executives he hired.
An accountant from Co Roscommon, Mr Heavey set up the oil and gas explorer after working for Tullow Engineering in Co Carlow.
Tullow focused on buying assets that bigger players were selling or in which they were not interested, starting with properties in Senegal and Bangladesh.
In 2001, it paid £201 million to BP and Amoco for oil wells in the North Sea. Turnover multiplied nine times to €125 million and profits rocketed to €36 million from less than €500,000.
This gave Tullow the muscle for more deals. In 2004, it bought Energy Africa, an operator with licences to explore for oil and gas in countries such as Egypt, Ghana Mauritania, Morocco and Uganda.
Tullow discovered and exploited oil off Ghana’s coast. It then found a field in Uganda’s Lake Albert Basin that could produce 200,000 barrels of oil a day.
It recruited French giant Total and Chinese player CNOCC to help develop this. Tullow is still developing Uganda, while it is working on a newer find in Kenya with the capacity to yield 80,000 barrels a day.
While analysts suggest Tullow found itself too exposed once prices slumped, and should have sold some assets ahead of this rather than trying to develop them, they agree such arguments are easy to make with hindsight.
Tullow earned profits of $22 million last year after losing $755 million in 2016. Ms Thompson will be become chairwoman designate at Tullow’s annual general meeting on April 25th.