Sir Bill Gammell stepping down as Cairn chairman

Sir Bill Gammell: Stepping down after 25 years at Cairn. Picture: Phil Wilkinson
Sir Bill Gammell: Stepping down after 25 years at Cairn. Picture: Phil Wilkinson
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Oil and gas explorer Cairn ­Energy has named former ­Balfour Beatty boss Ian Tyler as its new chairman after founder Sir Bill Gammell revealed he will be retiring in May.

Canaccord Genuity analyst Thomas Martin said he did not believe that the change at the helm would signal a shift in strategy at the firm, which recently said it was putting its controversial Arctic drilling plans on the back burner as it focuses its efforts on the North Sea and an ambitious programme off the west coast of Africa.

Cairn has estimated there could be more than five billion barrels of oil waiting to be found off Greenland, but its activities there have been criticised by environmental campaigners. So far its efforts to strike oil have proved fruitless, and in January the firm said it was working with its joint venture partners – Norway’s Statoil and Greenland’s national oil firm Nunaoil – to “mature” its plans for the Pitu block.

Although the company had expected to resume drilling in the Arctic this year, this is now seen as unlikely as it concentrates on a $400 million (£243m) programme of nine exploration wells in the North Sea and so-called Atlantic margin.

Along with two wells off the coast of Senegal and one each off Morocco and Ireland, Cairn is planning five non-operated wells, including four in the North Sea, in what is described as its busiest year for a decade.

Martin said: “The strategy is to develop their North Sea fields and undertake some high-risk, but potentially high-reward frontier exploration, and I don’t think that’s going to change.”

Gammell, a former Scotland rugby international, took the chair almost three years ago when Simon Thomson succeeded him as chief executive, and said yesterday that he would be leaving the firm he founded in 1981 in “highly capable” hands.

Thomson said: “Bill has been an exceptional leader and leaves a lasting legacy at Cairn. His role in the company’s growth over 25 years has delivered significant value to shareholders.”

Cairn, which is due to report its full-year results in two weeks’ time, is in the process of returning up to $300m to investors, and said in January that it has so far bought back shares worth about $42m.

Gammell – who also chairs Genius Foods, the Edinburgh company that specialises in gluten-free bread and cakes – will hand over the reins to Tyler after the explorer’s annual meeting in May. Gammell said: “I am proud of Cairn’s many achievements during my tenure as founder, CEO, and subsequently chairman, and as a shareholder I look forward to further progress.

“I am pleased to be leaving in the knowledge that the board and the company will remain in highly capable hands with Ian as chairman and with Simon at the helm as CEO.”

Tyler, who ran Balfour Beatty for eight years before stepping down from the construction group a year ago, joined Cairn’s board in June. He also chairs Bovis Homes and Al Noor Hospitals – the largest private healthcare provider in Abu Dhabi – and is a non-executive at defence contractor BAE Systems.