Centrica picks oilman Laidlaw as new chief

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Mr Laidlaw, who is executive vice-president of the US oil major Chevron, will take up the post in July when Sir Roy, who has led Centrica since its demerger from BG in 1997, moves over to become chairman of the troubled catering giant Compass.

His appointment casts a shadow over the long-term future of the two internal candidates for the post - Mark Clare, the managing director of British Gas, and Phil Bentley, the finance director and head of Centrica's European operations.

A spokeswoman said that while highly talented and highly rated, the two had not met the board's criteria, which stipulated that Sir Roy's successor should be someone with previous experience as chief executive of a large quoted company with knowledge of the international energy industry.

Mr Laidlaw, 50, was previously chief executive of Enterprise Oil, now part of Royal Dutch Shell, and president and chief operating officer of Amerada Hess. He will be paid a base salary of £850,000 - less than the £891,000 Sir Roy receives - and will initially be on a two-year contract.

Mr Laidlaw, who lives in the UK, is a non-executive director of the building materials group Hanson. He was educated at Cambridge University and qualified as a solicitor. Roger Carr, Centrica's chairman, said Mr Laidlaw would bring "an invaluable combination of upstream expertise, a considerable reputation for managing a large-scale global energy business and a proven track record of creating shareholder value".

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