Shell’s hiring of Thomas Brostrom from Orsted was hailed as a sign of changing times when news of his appointment broke in 2020. The times have changed again.
Brostrom was the Danish group’s North America offshore wind chief and one of the fledgling US industry’s star names before joining the oil & gas giant, which was seen as making a powerful statement of intent that it was serious about renewables.
Today (Friday), just two years after starting with Shell, it emerged Brostrom is going. We don’t know exactly why – apart from the fact that he’s pursuing "an external opportunity" – but we do know that his former post as executive vice president for renewable generation was removed in a corporate shake-up and replaced by a new regional role.
And while the company he joined had the aura of an energy transition business – not least through the buzz created by hiring the likes of Brostrom himself – the Shell he leaves is very much an oil giant.
As recently as 2019, one top Shell executive said: “We believe we can be the largest electricity company in the world in the early 2030s.”
However, Brostom’s two years at Shell have seen the Ukraine war and the energy security agenda transform the landscape for its core business, with newly-installed CEO Wael Sawan recently stressing the company’s “ruthless” approach to maximising value, and that it’s “absolutely committed to our upstream business”.
That’s not to say that Shell isn’t still active in renewables and the transition – but like other oil & gas giants it’s looking doubtfully at the profitability on offer, with Sawan making clear that only green power projects that can measure up over returns, or fit with a wider integrated value chain, will be considered.
Brostrom wasn’t the only ex-Orsted star to move to an oil supermajor – the Danish group’s former Asia chief Matthias Bausenwein trod the same path to BP to lead offshore wind, while the recruitment of his boss Anja-Isabel Dotzenrath from RWE was seen as another major coup.
The UK supermajor’s CEO Bernard Looney has made his own shift to stress the virtues of upstream oil and gas, but both BP executives insisted to Recharge earlier this year that they still have plenty of scope to build its energy transition portfolio.
One thing is for certain – it’s getting easier to tell black from green again.