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Ex-Shell CEO van Beurden joins KKR to advise on climate investments

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Shell’s former chief executive has joined private equity group KKR as a senior adviser for energy transition investments in his first corporate role since stepping down from the oil and gas major.

Ben van Beurden, who started with KKR on a part-time basis in January, is advising the $553bn in assets investment group on its new global climate strategy within the infrastructure investment unit.

The Dutch executive spent 39 years at Shell, including almost a decade in the top job. He stepped down at the end of 2022. As chief executive, he oversaw the $54bn acquisition of BG Group, set Shell’s first climate targets and pushed the FTSE 100 group further into new areas such as biofuels, hydrogen and renewable power.

While conventional energy companies such as Shell are focused on changing how energy is supplied, KKR could also invest in areas including vehicle electrification, hydrogen consumption and battery systems, that could help change the shape of energy demand, Van Beurden told the Financial Times.

“There are quite a few things you could do in that space that are easier and more logical to do with private capital than it is with public capital,” he said. “The more I get exposed to private equity, the more that I believe that this is a really crucial part of the overall societal puzzle to get right.”

KKR has prioritised investments aimed at transitioning the fossil-fuel based global economy to a system dependent on cleaner forms of energy, building a large climate investment operation within its $59bn in assets infrastructure investment unit. 

While it is still raising capital for the new global climate strategy, the New York-based investment group has already made $15bn in energy transition related investments, including a $750mn investment in London-based Zenobe, a EV charging network, and a $1bn investment in US solar developer Avantus. 

Brandon Freiman, head of North American infrastructure at KKR, said the private equity group was drawn to van Beurden’s record in pivoting one of the world’s largest energy companies towards more sustainable operations. 

“He was the leader in driving Shell’s strategic transformation,” said Freiman. “He really led Shell’s work during his tenure as CEO on transitioning it across oil and gas, renewables, sustainable aviation and transportation.”

In 2017, van Beurden was the first oil major chief executive to set targets to cut the carbon intensity of the company’s products and subsequently led a push into areas such as renewable power generation, acquiring businesses including the US solar group Savion and the Indian renewables platform Sprng.

But he also faced criticism, not least in his native Netherlands, where a court ruled that Shell needed to cut emissions faster. Shell appealed against the ruling this month.

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