Malaysian prime minister names Petronas finance chief as new CEO

KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) - Malaysia’s prime minister on Saturday appointed the finance chief at Petroliam Nasional Bhd (Petronas) to take over as chief executive at the state energy company, at a time when lower oil prices and the coronavirus pandemic have hit the firm’s profits.

FILE PHOTO: Petronas CEO Wan Zulkiflee Wan Ariffin speaks during the opening ceremony of the 20th Asia Oil & Gas Conference in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia June 24, 2019. REUTERS/Lai Seng Sin

The government of premier Muhyiddin Yassin has made a series of management changes at state-owned companies and government agencies since coming to power in March following the unexpected resignation of his predecessor, Mahathir Mohamad.

Tengku Muhammad Taufik Tengku Aziz, currently chief financial officer will take over from Wan Zulkiflee Wan Ariffin as Petronas CEO from July 1, the prime minister’s office said.

Wan Zulkiflee, who led Petronas for five years, will join the struggling national carrier Malaysia Airlines as chairman, Muhyiddin’s office said.

The changes at Petronas come as the new coronavirus outbreak has wreaked havoc on energy demand and dampened oil prices, forcing the company to review costs and capital expenditure.

The chief executive’s position at Petronas, which is fully owned by the Malaysian government, is a prime ministerial appointment.

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Wan Zul, as he is commonly known, is a Petronas veteran, joining the company in 1983 as a process engineer and working his way up through the ranks.

He took over as CEO in 2015 and led the company through a period of tumultuous oil prices.

Benchmark Brent crude LCOc1 plunged to near 12-year lows soon after he took over, prompting Petronas to cut $12 billion (9.5 billion pounds) from costs and thousands of jobs for the first time.

He championed an ambitious $27 billion oil refinery and petrochemical project with partner Saudi Aramco in the southern Malaysian state of Johor. Under his leadership, Petronas also expanded internationally.

His term as CEO was renewed in 2018 for three years.

As oil prices crashed again this year to below $20 per barrel and profits fell 68% in the first quarter, Wan Zul said Petronas would optimise costs and international capital expenditure.

Petronas is the sole manager of Malaysia’s oil and gas reserves, and a key source of government revenues.

In his new role, Wan Zul will be tasked with helping to revitalise ailing Malaysia Airlines, which is owned by sovereign wealth fund Khazanah Nasional Bhd.

The government has been seeking a strategic partner for the financially struggling airline, which is still recovering from two tragedies in 2014, when flight MH370 disappeared in what remains a mystery and flight MH17 was shot down over eastern Ukraine.

Reporting by A. Ananthalakshmi and Mei Mei Chu; Editing by Christian Schmollinger and Helen Popper