Chad Holliday, chairman-designate at Royal Dutch Shell, has spent much of his career making the case for companies to pay more attention to environmental issues.
He co-chaired the UN’s high-level group on sustainable energy for all, which in 2011 pledged to double the world’s use of renewable energy by 2030.
Mr Holliday is a former chairman of the World Business Council for Sustainable Development, a corporate sustainability group. He is also a former board member of WWF, a leading conservation body.
He was also a member of the Global Commission on the Economy and Climate, which earlier this month published a report calling for action to tackle the threat of global warming, and arguing that it could be done at a lower cost than sceptics generally suggested.
That makes him a good fit for Shell, which has long acknowledged that climate change is an issue that oil companies need to address, and is spending the most among the big Western oil companies on research and development.
In an interview with McKinsey in 2012, Mr Holliday predicted that natural resources companies would “come under a lot of pressure” to be more sustainable.
He said: “Ten years from now, I think it’s going to be generally accepted in the US that we have to do something different . . . [people] will begin to understand that technology can help us deal with the resource challenge we face. Organisations that determine how to manage resources differently will have an advantage.”
Last month, Mr Holliday, 66, relinquished his chairmanship of Bank of America after four years to chief executive Brian Moynihan, who now performs both roles, in spite of a shareholder vote which pressed the bank into splitting the roles in 2009.
He was known by some at BofA as “Fad Holliday” due to an alleged propensity to latch on to new ideas, one person familiar with the company said, but other colleagues spoke highly of him.
“He saw the job as being supportive of Brian and providing leadership to the board,” said Anne Finnucane, head of global strategy and marketing at BofA. “He had some difficult issues to deal with. He was someone that was able to put a reason, philosophy and experience behind what were really difficult periods in the financial services industry.”
But his experience at BofA, the second-biggest US bank by assets, and as chief executive of DuPont, the US chemicals group, is in a very different corporate environment to the UK, where chairmen typically liaise closely with investors and act as a hands-on check on management.
At BofA, shareholders and people who worked with Mr Holliday say he performed a different role.
“He ran the board – he would never try to run the company,” said one person familiar with his time at BofA. “He had a very clear idea, in the American context, on the role of the board. He was very good at it.”
One large shareholder said he had very little interaction with investors, though that was not uncommon in US banks, where management would lead that relationship.
His most significant move was helping appoint Mr Moynihan, an internal candidate and lawyer by training, to rebuild BofA after the financial crisis and its disastrous acquisition of Countrywide, the mortgage lender.
In the darkest days of 2011, with BofA failing to report growth and on the hook for billions of dollars in litigation, that decision was questioned. Mr Holliday stuck with Mr Moynihan, though, and the bank has recently enjoyed a recovery, with the stock price up threefold.
Mr Holliday came under fire from some analysts who criticised his lack of banking experience.
At DuPont, Mr Holliday served as chief executive from 1998 to 2009, and chairman from 1999 to 2009.
He had joined the company in 1970 after graduating from the University of Tennessee, taking a summer job as an engineer, which he later persuaded his boss to turn into a full-time position.
He worked his way up through the company, and under his leadership, DuPont made advances in the biofuels market, at one point teaming up with BP to engineer plant-derived fuels.
In 1999, Mr Holliday successfully split off DuPont’s petrochemicals division into a separate company, resulting in the $4.4bn IPO of Conoco – the largest in history at that time. The company later agreed to merge with Phillips in 2001.
Additional reporting by Ed Crooks in New York
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