Henrik Poulsen has resigned as CEO of global offshore wind giant Orsted and will step down by February 2021 at the latest, the Danish group announced on Monday.

No successor has yet been chosen for Poulsen – one of the pioneers of the energy transition who over eight years led Orsted’s transformation from oil & gas player Dong Energy into the world’s biggest developer of wind at sea.

The outgoing CEO said he has no firm plans for the future but will "find other challenges where I can make a contribution. Time will show where, when, and what type of role." He did rule out taking the lead in another fossil-to-green transition by taking a job with an oil major.

Poulsen stressed he wants to help ensure an orderly transition and will remain "fully focused" on Orsted until his departure.

Orsted chairman Thomas Thune Andersen said: "We regret his decision to resign as CEO of Orsted, but we, of course, respect his wish to free up more time for other activities."

Poulsen will be nominated to join Orsted’s board next March after he steps down. Orsted said it has started a search for a successor.

Black to green pioneer

The announcement of the departure of Poulsen marks a new start for an executive with strong claims to be one of the leaders of the energy transition to date.

Poulsen in 2017 completed the transformation of Dong Energy – standing for Danish Oil & Natural Gas – into Orsted, divesting the old company's upstream oil and gas operations and doubling down on offshore wind with a pledge to take it beyond its heartlands in the UK and Germany.

He said then: "2017 will be remembered as the year when offshore wind became cheaper than black energy."

Since then Orsted has developed offshore wind operations in the US and Taiwan, with ambitions elsewhere in Asia and beyond, re-entered onshore renewables and set out its stall to become a big player in green hydrogen.

In January 2020 Orsted was crowned the world's most sustainable company.

Just as importantly for the energy transition, Poulsen proved that green electricity could be profitable as well as environmentally benign, delivering value for shareholders and attracting the backing of the likes of Goldman Sachs.

Difficult conclusion

Announcing his resignation, Poulsen said: "Together, we’ve transformed a Danish utility predominantly based on fossil fuels into a global leader in green energy.

"In the process, we’ve increased the market value of the company by several hundred per cent.

"We’re now at a point where the transformation is completed, and we’ve built a strong platform for global growth. I’ve concluded that it’s the right time for me to step down and free up time to pursue other challenges. It’s been difficult to reach this conclusion, but it’s nonetheless the right decision."