Genel Energy, the Iraqi Kurdistan-focused oil producer, has promoted its chief operating officer Bill Higgs to chief executive with immediate effect.

Mr Higgs, who has been chief operating officer since October 2017, replaces Murat Özgül, who has been at the helm of the group since 2015. Mr Özgül will remain at the company as a special adviser until 2020 to help with the transition.

Genel, which last month announced the payment of its first dividend after a difficult few years, said Mr Higgs had been recruited to his previous role as a potential successor to Mr Özgül.

Stephen Whyte, chairman of Genel, said Mr Higgs had “already made a tremendous contribution to our operations and the addition of further growth prospects”.

“He is the right person to continue growing the company and delivering on our strategy, as we look to provide investors with a compelling proposition combining both growth and a material annual return,” he added.

Genel was valued at more than £3bn in 2014, but was hit by both the oil price crash and a number of cuts to its estimates of how much oil its key asset, the Taq Taq field, would be able to produce. It is currently valued at around £570m. Since Mr Özgül’s appointment it had managed to cut its net debt from $220m to a net cash position of $81m in February.

Mr Higgs previously held positions as executive director and chief operating officer of Ophir Energy and chief executive of Mediterranean Oil and Gas. He also spent 23 years at oil major Chevron in various roles.

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