Total's sudden and tragic loss of its CEO presents significant challenges for new leadership.

After the sudden death of CEO Christophe de Margerie in a tragic plane crash, the French oil giant Total SA is trying to recover as rapidly as possible. Patrick Pouyanné, former president of refining and chemicals for Total, has assumed the CEO position. 

Former CEO Thierry Desmarest, de Margerie's predecessor, will also assume the role of chairman. The company plans to keep the two roles separate until the end of 2015, when they are expected to be merged once again. 

"It's a quasi-ideal configuration, at least for the next few years until we have seen whether Pouyanne displays any talent as a strategist," Christian Jimenez, a fund manager at Diamant Bleu-Gestion, which owns Total shares told Fortune.

Pouyanné, who has been long-expected to be a successor, has extremely large shoes to fill. French Prime Minister Manuel Valls even shared his sorrow at the sudden loss of de Margerie, stating that the country had lost "a great industry captain and a patriot," and that de Margerie had "turned Total into a world giant."

The new CEO is also assuming leadership during a period marked by new challenges to the industry. Volatile oil prices and a downturn of European refining could make the transition more difficult. 

Total currently employs a major presence in Houston, with seven of its nine subsidiaries headquartered in the Lone Star State, including Total Petrochemicals USA Inc.

Faced with such a sudden and tragic challenge, Total will have to transition quickly to its new leadership structure to remain competitive. While it is as yet unclear whether Pouyanné will be taking the company in a new direction, oil and gas strategy consulting can be retained to ensure that any organizational restructuring reflects the best interests of the company.