Husky Energy president and chief executive John Lau plans to step down next year after the company’s White Rose oil project off the coast of Newfoundland begins producing.
Lau made the announcement about his pending departure after Husky’s annual meeting in Calgary last week. He said he has no official retirement date in mind, but the board would like him to remain at the helm until White Rose has begun producing oil sometime in 2005.
“It looks like I don’t have an alternative. I want to make sure my baby’s growing up,’’ Lau said about White Rose.
Over his 10 years as chief executive of Husky, Lau has transformed the company from a private firm into a major publicly traded international oil and gas producer involved in offshore oil, natural gas, heavy oil and refineries as well as a network of gasoline stations.
|Larry MacDougal photo, Business Edge|
|Husky Energy president John Lau has announced plans to leave his post.|
In the last 10 years, Husky’s production has more than tripled from 97,400 barrels of oil equivalent per day to 312,500 barrels.
“He’s brought Husky from a time when it was a debt-heavy company to one where it’s become one of the largest companies in the Canadian industry, successfully both offshore and internationally,’’ said Wilf Gobert, an energy analyst with Calgary-based Peters & Co.
Though the company began trading publicly in 2000 after its takeover of Calgary-based Renaissance Energy, Husky remains controlled by Hong Kong billionaire Li Ka-shing.
His son Victor Li has been co-chairman of Husky since 2000. Victor Li is better known in Canadian business circles for his plans to invest $650 million to become Air Canada’s controlling shareholder – a proposal he abandoned earlier this month.
In recent years, Husky was rumoured to have been involved in potential takeover talks with several of the world’s biggest energy companies, including French giant Total and China’s largest state-owned oilpatch player, PetroChina.
But none of the deals came to fruition and Husky instead focused on growing its own business.
Husky’s key projects include a 72-per-cent operating stake in the $2.35-billion White Rose project, as well as a minor stake in Terra Nova, another offshore project, and a 40-per-cent holding in the Wenchang oilfield in the South China Sea.
The company also owns the Lloydminster heavy-oil upgrader and plans for two oilsands plants in northeastern Alberta, and operates a gasoline station network.
Husky generated revenues of nearly $7.7 billion last year and a profit of $1.3 billion, and employs about 3,000 people.
Lau said he has already been approached by one other company to be a director, but said he wanted to take his time before leaving Husky.
“I feel it’s so important to see the whole thing in an orderly manner – make sure Husky’s in good hands, doing things right,’’ he said. “Because when you build an empire, you don’t want just to forget about it.’’ Earlier this week, Husky reported first-quarter profits of $263 million, a drop of more than 35 per cent from the $408 million earned in the same period of 2003. The company attributed most of the drop to the dramatic increase in value of the Canadian dollar in the past year and its affect on Husky’s debt, which is held in U.S. dollars.
On the Toronto stock market last week, Husky shares (HSE-TSX) rose 20 cents to $27.20, closing in on the 52-week high of $28.30.