Euronav CEO De Stoop Leaves as Strategy Debate Continues

Hugo De Stoop
Hugo De Stoop left Euronav effective immediately today (Euronav file photo)

Published May 16, 2023 12:24 PM by The Maritime Executive

The battle over the strategy and future direction of tanker operator Euronav has resulted in the immediate departure of long-time CEO Hugo De Stoop announced earlier today. The architect of the current strategy which is seeing Euronav rebound strongly in the market had aligned with Frontline and John Fredriksen during the fight over the merger and sought the power-sharing agreement that saw both Fredriksen and the Saverys family take seats on the supervisory board this spring.

In a brief stock exchange announcement, the company announces the departure of its CEO “with immediate effect by mutual agreement,” while noting that “the majority of the Supervisory Board supported this decision.” Fredriksen and Saverys each have two seats on the board with three additional independent directors. 

CFO Lieve Logghe becomes interim CEO to oversee the continuity of Euronav operations with the board highlighting that Lieve has driven substantial improvement across the financial structure of Euronav since joining the group in 2020, and will also continue in her role as CFO. De Stoop they also said will be “available to the company as a senior advisor until the appointment of a permanent successor.”

While a change in management based on the current debate for the future strategy was not a surprise, the timing came just a day before the company’s annual general meeting of shareholders on May 17 in Antwerp. De Stoop joined Euronav in September 2004 as Deputy CFO. He became CFO four years later and in May 2019, he assumed the position of CEO.

De Stoop in public statements during the struggle over the merger with Frontline had called the plan presented by the Saverys and CMB.Tech "flawed ideas" and was a vocal supporter of Fredriksen and the Frontline merger. De Stoop was to have continued as CEO of the merged company. The Supervisory Board in today’s announcement thanked De Stoop for his contribution to Euronav over the past two decades and its development into a world-class leading tanker company. 

“With a new Supervisory Board and strong representation from the two core shareholders, now is an appropriate time for Euronav to open a new chapter in its development,” De Stoop was quoted as saying in the official statement. He told Tradewinds in an interview that he was not surprised by the decision with analysts speculating his departure could be a step toward resolving the future direction of the company. 

A week ago, Euronav announced strong results with De Stoop saying it was the company’s view that “strong and durable drivers are in place to continue a multi-year upcycle in large crude tanker freight markets.” Euronav nearly tripled its revenue in the first quarter from $114 million to nearly $340 million. The company reported a profit of $175 million versus a year-ago loss of $43 million. 

De Stoop had led the company into a newbuilding program while many owners waited during the downturn. As a result, Euronav took delivery on two further VLCCs in the first quarter and has six additional tankers on order. The company highlighted data from Clarksons that shows in the eight quarters to end Q1 2023 just two VLCC and 17 Suezmax were ordered, and while new orders are accelerating now, Euronav is ahead having ordered vessels early and now having capacity to meet market demand. They noted that the first quarter was only the third time since 1990 that rates in both the VLCC and Suezmax sectors had moved up sequentially month-to-month between January and March. They said the unusual trading pattern “underpins the strong fundamentals of the large crude tanker market.”

The Saverys have been advocating that Euronav needs to accelerate its move to alternative fuels. They are strong supporters of ammonia and hydrogen believing the company must adapt to these new markets.

As Euronav looks to determine its future strategy, and now appoint a new chief executive, the fight over the merger continues in the Belgian arbitration court. Euronav contends that Frontline did not have the right under the merger agreement to walk away from the deal as they did in January 2023. De Stoop had said they were not seeking to force the deal but believed the Euronav shareholders are due compensation for the efforts that went into creating the combination agreement.