Sir Ian Wood is leaving Wood Group after nearly 50 years in the business he transformed from a fishing firm into a global energy services giant.
The businessman has been chairman of the company since 1982 and served as its chief executive from 1967 to 2006.
He leaves an unrivalled legacy in the oil and gas industry and will be replaced by current chief executive Allister Langlands.
Bob Keiller will become new chief executive officer when the changes come into effect in November.
Announcing his decision yesterday, Sir Ian said he was part of the “lucky generation” of north-east business people who had benefited from the growing energy industry in Aberdeen.
But the billionaire – who has pledged £50million to redevelop the Union Terrace Gardens – said his home city would have to look to other industries, as North Sea reserves dwindled, to maintain its current prosperity.
Sir Ian, who has three grown-up sons and six grandchildren, said: “I am 70 this weekend and for some time I have promised my family I would cut back on my work with Wood Group.”
After graduating from Aberdeen University in 1964, he joined family business John Wood and Son when it had just 100 employees and sales of £350,000.
He became managing director in 1967 and has built the company up to annual turnover of nearly £4billion, with a workforce of more than 41,000 people in 50 countries.
With the help of the UK first female prime minister, Margaret Thatcher – whom he met in Aberdeen in 1979 – he played a major role in making the north-east the oil capital of Europe.
Industry leaders lined up to pay tribute to the 69-year-old yesterday.
Ian Marchant, Wood Group’s senior independent director, said: “Sir Ian has been an extraordinary leader for the group, guiding the company from its roots in the North Sea to its position today as a major global oil and gas services company.
“The group and its shareholders owe a huge debt to him, and to the executives who have worked so closely with him over the years.”
Sir Ian – who received a knighthood in 1994 and is chancellor of Robert Gordon University – said he would miss his Wood Group colleagues but was looking forward to spending time on other interests, including his family’s philanthropic organisation, the Wood Family Trust.
“The Wood Family Trust is going very well and we are doing some exciting and ambitious things in Africa, and that will be one of the things I turn my attention to,” he said.
Sir Ian said he would leave Wood Group with very few regrets but, after a career filled with highlights, the low point had been the Piper Alpha disaster in 1988, in which 167 men died. He said he had visited some of the families affected by the catastrophic gas explosion on the North Sea platform.
“It was a traumatic event for the industry and a traumatic event for Wood Group,” he said. “The only good thing that came of it was wholesale change to the industry’s approach to safety.
“I spent 10 days visiting 23 bereaved families, and it was a tough time for everyone in the oil and gas industry.”