Vitol’s Americas Head Mike Loya Leaves Oil Trading Giant
Miguel “Mike” Loya, the long-time head of Vitol Group’s operations in the Americas, has exited the high-profile role as Ben Marshall takes over in Houston at the world’s biggest independent oil trader.
The end of Loya’s tenure marks another significant changing of the guard at the trading giant and follows a series of legal troubles for Vitol in the Americas, most notably a bribery scandal in Brazil linked to state-controlled Petroleo Brasileiro SA.
A Vitol spokeswoman in London confirmed that Loya, 64, had retired as president of Vitol Inc. and that Marshall had assumed the role.
Vitol’s Americas division has been in focus as part of the Brazilian “Carwash” investigations. A former Petrobras oil trader who went by the code name “Phil Collins” told a Brazilian judge last year he received bribes from the trading house to favor the firm in contracts from 2003 to 2005. Loya, as head of the unit, consented to the payments, the ex-Petrobras trader testified.
No charges have been filed against Loya or Vitol in the Brazil case. Vitol and Loya have denied the allegations and said the company has a “zero tolerance” policy regarding bribery and corruption and are cooperating with the authorities, including the U.S. Justice Department which is also investigating.
Marshall, a senior executive at Vitol in Texas with a background trading naphtha and gasoline, succeeds Loya as head of the Americas subsidiary in Houston housing Vitol’s biggest trading office. Marshall, who joined the company from Exxon Mobil Corp. in 2011 and has a degree in chemical engineering from Louisiana State University, was appointed to Vitol’s board of directors last year in a signal that he was likely in line for the job.
Harvard to Exxon
One of seven children, Loya grew up in El Paso, on the border with Mexico, and graduated with a degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Texas at El Paso in 1977. He received an MBA from Harvard in 1979 and then started his career in the energy industry at a forerunner of Exxon and then at Tenneco -- at that time an oil company.
From there, his career touched the who’s who of the oil-trading industry in the 1980s and beyond. He joined Transworld Oil, the legendary trading house founded by John Deuss, where he became a top trader and was known for making bold bets on North Sea oil.
After Transworld ran into difficulties, Loya joined Vitol in 1992, and his first job was to clean up a mess. The company had invested in a joint venture to trade metals with a group who had left the trading house then known as Marc Rich + Co. The joint venture, called Euromin, was bleeding money and Loya was the man tasked with resolving the problem.
At Euromin he dealt with Bo Ljungberg, who was one of the top executives at the venture, and decades later played a larger role in the scandal in Brazil. Ljungberg was, according to Brazilian police, a key link between Vitol and other oil traders doing business with Petrobras. Ljungberg hasn’t commented publicly on the allegations.
In 1997, Loya, already a rising star at Vitol, became a director of the company, and in 1999 he took over the Americas operations, based in Houston.
His divorce more than a decade later offered a rare glimpse into Vitol’s riches, allowing rivals to take a peek into a company that, until then, had succeeded in keeping the wealth of its top executives out of public view.
According to documents filed as part of the divorce, Loya controlled Vitol shares at the end of 2007 valued at about $140 million. Since then, the company’s book value has roughly doubled, with profits and payouts surging, suggesting that top executives are each worth hundreds of millions. In an interview with Bloomberg News in 2016, Loya said what attracted him to Vitol was the possibility of owning shares. “If you do well, you become of one of the owners,” he said.
In a profile from the University of Texas at El Paso, which now houses the Mike Loya Center for Innovation and Commerce, Loya espoused the value of taking risks.
“Don’t overestimate the downside or you’ll make sub-optimal decisions,” he said in UTEP’s 2010 Homecoming Guide. “Don’t play it safe. Take chances.”
His exit from Vitol follows other changes in top management at the trading house, which handled 8 million barrels of crude and petroleum products a day last year. Russell Hardy took over as chief executive officer in 2018 from Ian Taylor, who moved to be chairman of the group. At Vitol’s Swiss subsidiary in Geneva, long-time managing director David Fransen became chairman in 2017, while Chief Information Officer Gerard Delsad took over leadership of the Geneva management committee.
In addition to Vitol’s Petrobras legal troubles, California’s Attorney General filed a lawsuit this month alleging Vitol Inc. and another trading house took advantage of market disruptions following a 2015 refinery explosion in southern California to drive up gasoline prices for residents.
Vitol has said its actions after the explosion were legal and “believes the suit lacks merit and is prepared to defend against these claims in court.”
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