Ørsted CEO Henrik Poulsen has resigned after eight years at the helm of the world's leading offshore wind developer.

Poulsen will stay on no longer than January 31, 2021, with his successor to be appointed by the firm’s board at its annual general meeting in March 2021.

Since taking over Danish Oil and Natural Gas (Dong), as it was known eight years ago, Poulsen oversaw the near-total divestment of the company's fossil fuel activities and its emergence as the global offshore powerhouse, with an unrivaled pipeline of offshore wind projects around the world and growing energy trading capabilities.

In spite of the coronavirus pandemic, Ørsted's shares have traded higher in June 2020 than at any time in the firm’s history.

“It’s been an incredible ride over the past eight years, and I have a tremendous amount of affection for Ørsted, its vision, and not least its people," Poulsen said in a statement. "Together, we’ve transformed a Danish utility predominantly based on fossil fuels into a global leader in green energy."

On a call with investors Monday, Poulsen confirmed that he has a 12-month noncompete clause starting after January 31, 2021.

He quipped that while the decision to move on had been made fairly quickly, he had not experienced a lockdown-triggered “existential crisis.”

“We’re now at a point where the transformation is completed, and we’ve built a strong platform for global growth. I’ve concluded that it’s the right time for me to step down and free up time to pursue other challenges. It’s been difficult to reach this conclusion, but it’s nonetheless the right decision."

Ørsted has nominated Poulsen for a seat on the board, to be confirmed at next year's general meeting. “An appointment will allow me to remain part of the fabulous Ørsted team and support the company’s continued strategic development,” Poulsen said of his potential ongoing role within the firm.

A position on Ørsted's board would rule Poulsen out of a move to another oil and gas firm in transition, he said, adding that he thinks other oil companies can still make the low-carbon shift, even if it takes them longer than Ørsted.

Ørsted's strong position in the U.S. market

Ørsted owns some onshore wind assets and has recently moved more aggressively into the U.S. onshore renewables and storage markets through its acquisitions of Lincoln Clean Energy and Coronal. 

But offshore wind remains the backbone of the business, and Poulsen said the company has never been in better shape. Ørsted had 6.8 gigawatts of offshore wind installed globally at the end of Q1 2020, and it had closed financing on another 3.1 gigawatts.

During Poulsen's time in charge, Ørsted has bought, invested and developed its way into a commanding position into the U.S. offshore wind market, where it holds interests in 8 gigawatts of potential future capacity, providing a clear route to growth through the second half of this decade.