Poulsen to stand down as Ørsted CEO

Henrik Poulsen has resigned as CEO of Ørsted after nearly eight years in the role, during which the company shifted from fossil fuels to renewable energy and boosted its wind power portfolio to become a market leader.

Henrik Poulsen has been CEO at Ørsted for nearly eight years (pic: Ørsted/Patrick Harrison)
Henrik Poulsen has been CEO at Ørsted for nearly eight years (pic: Ørsted/Patrick Harrison)

He will stay in the role until 31 January 2021 at the latest. Meanwhile, the company’s board has launched a global search for a replacement, Ørsted announced this afternoon (15 June).

Poulsen will be nominated for a non-executive role on the company’s board of directors at its next annual general meeting in March 2021.

The announcement does not change Ørsted’s guidance for the 2020 financial year, nor its expected investment level for 2020, the developer added.

Poulsen said he had not made any decisions about his future plans, but would not be joining a competitor, he told reporters in a conference call. 

"We’ve transformed a Danish utility predominantly based on fossil fuels into a global leader in green energy, which was ranked as the world’s most sustainable company earlier this year," he said. "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.”

Poulsen joined Ørsted as CEO in August 2012, having previously held senior management positions in several companies including management consultants McKinsey & Company, telecommunications firm TDC Group, investment firm KKR Capstone and toy company Lego.

During his tenure, Ørsted has divested much of its fossil-fuel generation business and shifted its focus to green power, particularly offshore wind. The company rebranded in 2017 to reflect this new direction, changing its name from Dong Energy — which stood for Danish Oil and Natural Gas — to Ørsted.

It has grown its offshore wind fleet more than fivefold, from 1.3GW at the end of 2012 — all of which was in Denmark and the UK — to 7.4GW currently, according to Windpower Intelligence. During this period, the company also expanded into new markets, including the US, Germany and Taiwan, cementing its position as the world’s top offshore wind developer.

Ørsted also re-entered onshore wind through the acquisition of US developer Lincoln Clean Energy in 2018, and has expressed an interest in developing solar and storage applications.

Earlier this year, Ørsted also unveiled plans to become a carbon-neutral company by 2025, before removing all carbon emissions across its supply chain and energy trading by 2040.

Poulsen said he believes other companies can follow in Ørsted's footsteps in moving from black to green energy.

“Over the past 18 months or so, some of the oil majors have started to see that that is the journey they are on long-term," he told reporters.

"They have much bigger legacy challenges than we did, moving from fossil fuels to a future-proof energy business. But they have made some big decisions recently, and some of them are beginning that journey.”

Ørsted's board will look both within and outside the company for Poulsen's replacement, as well as in Denmark and internationally, chairman Thomas Thune Andersen said.

The board consists of six members of the developer's management team plus three employee representatives. Although the Danish government owns a majority stake (50.1%) in Ørsted, it has no board representation, and so will not have a vote on who is appointed, Andersen told reporters.

Poulsen will serve a 12-month 'no compete clause', meaning he cannot join a new company until 31 January, 2022, Andersen said.

Ørsted had initially planned to hold a capital markets day towards the end of 2020, but will now review the timing of this plan.

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