Wan Zulkiflee’s directorship at ExxonMobil in limbo

by PRIYA VASU / pic by TMR FILE

TAN Sri Wan Zulkiflee Wan Ariffin’s (picture) directorship role at ExxonMobil Corp looks shaky as the oil major board undergoes a shake-up with activist shareholders staking a claim to seats at the energy giant, likely at the expense of the former Petroliam Nasional Bhd (Petronas) CEO and president.

Based on the preliminary results to date, the oil major’s shareholders are expected to re-elect Darren Woods, Michael Angelakis, Susan Avery, Angela Braly, Ursula Burns, Kenneth Frazier, Joseph Hooley, Douglas Oberhelman and Jeffrey Ubben to the board.

Engine No 1 nominees Gregory Goff, Kaisa Hietala and Alexander Karsner have also successfully made the cut, ExxonMobil stated in a statement on Wednesday.

Wan Zulkiflee name appears to be missing in the consideration for reappointment to the Houston, Texas-based company’s board after just four months joining the group on Feb 2.

“The preliminary vote results are a forward looking statement. These estimates have been prepared by our proxy solicitor based on their work performed in connection with the annual meeting.

“These results are preliminary estimates only and are subject to change based on the certification of the voting results by the independent inspector of elections,” the ExxonMobil statement dated June 2, noted.

Wan Zulkiflee is currently the non-executive chairman of cash strapped Malaysia Airlines Bhd and DRB-Hicom Bhd, and he is involved in a number of initiatives dedicated to education and public sector leadership.

ExxonMobil was recently embroiled in controversy after claims it severely lacked initiatives on the climate change agenda.

Engine No 1, which is a small activist investor firm, wants ExxonMobil to speed up its energy transition, arguing the oil major has failed to appoint directors who are dedicated to the cause of climate change and cleaner energy transition.

In what appeared to be a response to shareholders pressure, ExxonMobil appointed three new members to its board since January this year, including Wan Zulkiflee.

Activist investor Ubben and former Comcast executive Angelakis were appointed to the board in March 2021.

However, these efforts have failed to impress Engine No 1 and ExxonMobil’s second-largest shareholder, BlackRock Inc, which forced the integrated energy company to take more meaningful participation in the shift towards cleaner energy and by extension reflect a positive change in the climate change agenda.

In a press release by Engine No 1 dated March 15 cited by The Malaysian Reserve, it claimed all newly elected directors in ExxonMobil including Wan Zulkiflee did not fulfil the successful energy transition experience the climate change agenda needs.

It claimed during his tenureship in Petronas, Wan Zulkiflee did not play a material role in any significant energy transition.

“Running a state-owned enterprise involves far different considerations than running a company for the benefit of public shareholders,” said the activist investor firm.

It added that his appointment in the ExxonMobil board was smoothen by ExxonMobil’s business contract with Petronas since 1976, in which it operates production sharing contracts with Petronas that produce one-fifth of Malaysia’s oil production and half of its gas production.