NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- French energy giant Total (TOT) - Get Total SA Sponsored ADR Class B Report wasted no time in naming a successor for Chairman and CEO Christophe de Margerie, who was killed earlier this week in a plane crash on a Moscow runway. In fact, the board took less than 36 hours despite not having any real succession plan in place prior.
On Wednesday Total named Patrick Pouyanne as CEO and Thierry Desmarest, who ran the company from 1995 to 2007, as chairman.
Patrick Pouyanne was a name considered to be a possible replacement for de Margerie, but could his selection as CEO make investors a bit nervous?
Next year could be a year of transition and education rather than growth for Total while Pouyanne gets his feet wet in his new leadership role. With Total shares currently down 5.6% for the year to date, upside could be challenged to keep up with the rest of the company's peers. This means investors may shift to other exploration and production plays with growth potential such as Hess (HES) - Get Hess Corporation (HES) Report and Chevron (CVX) - Get Chevron Corporation Report .
Young, talented, a rising star known for his stealth cost cutting moves. That's how many would likely view Pouyanne. However, running a refining and chemicals division and heading one of the largest energy companies in the world is quite different. Granted, he did have executive roles in Angola and Qatar for Total, yet making the decision to go with Pouyanne appears to be more of a bet on long-term success for Total.
Some crisis management experts may suggest wasting no time naming successors when tragedies occur. Just ask McDonald's (MCD) - Get McDonald's Corporation (MCD) Report . However, while running a retail organization can be extremely difficult, leading a behemoth energy company with so many moving parts has its own unique challenges -- environment, capital requirements, technology, geopolitics, etc.
Even Jack Welch, former head of General Electric (GE) - Get General Electric Company (GE) Report and widely considered to be one of the best CEOs in corporate America's history, was quoted in a Wall Street Journal story from 2004 saying, "If there's someone capable who can take over permanently, it's best to name that person quickly. But boards who haven't groomed someone for the job yet shouldn't make a call for the sake of making a call."
So did Total make a mistake in rushing to name a successor to de Margerie? De Margerie was slated to hold his positions for the next five years.
The role at Total will take time to learn and is not as easy as simply dropping a child in a pool to learn to swim. In fact, the reappointment of Desmarest, who ran the company from 1995 to 2007, as chairman is a clear sign Pouyanne has a steep learning curve in front of him. Rather than gain the insights of direction from the now-deceased de Margerie before taking the helm, Total is hoping the track record of Desmarest and the global pedigree he elevated Total to can now rub off on Pouyanne on the job.
Another area for concern for investors could be internal strife with some members of the executive team. Some solid candidates were overlooked to replace de Margerie. The economic, geopolitical and technological landscape has changed since Desmarest last held the chairmanship seven years ago. There could be gripes that the decision didn't take those changes into consideration.
Also, considering Desmarest's own age, he will have to step down from his chairman role at the end of 2015. That means within 14 months Pouyanne would likely assume both the chairman and CEO roles, responsibilities previously held by de Margerie. That's a massive responsibility for the 51-year-old Pouyanne.
At the time of publication, the author had no positions in stocks mentioned.
This article is commentary by an independent contributor, separate from TheStreet's regular news coverage.
TheStreet Ratings team rates TOTAL SA as a Buy with a ratings score of A-. TheStreet Ratings Team has this to say about their recommendation:
"We rate TOTAL SA (TOT) a BUY. This is based on the convergence of positive investment measures, which should help this stock outperform the majority of stocks that we rate. The company's strengths can be seen in multiple areas, such as its revenue growth, attractive valuation levels, good cash flow from operations and largely solid financial position with reasonable debt levels by most measures. We feel these strengths outweigh the fact that the company has had sub par growth in net income."
You can view the full analysis from the report here: TOT Ratings Report