Richard Wiseman is Shell General Counsel (Mergers & Acquisitions). Formally a Shell director, Mr Wiseman to his credit, has acquired a global reputation (with our help), as a purveyor of candid admissions on behalf of Shell.
EMAIL FROM JOHN DONOVAN TO RICHARD WISEMAN
Wednesday 8 November 2006
Dear Mr Wiseman
I understand that the letter printed below originated from a very senior source within Royal Dutch Shell. I have it on reliable authority that it is an authentic letter from Sir Henry Deterding, a founder of Royal Dutch Petroleum. It is evident from the content that he was somewhat less than fond of lawyers. Please let me know if you take issue with the authenticity of this notable letter or any of the wise conclusions reached by Sir Henry. I have taken the liberty of correcting two typing errors. By a sheer fluke, Sir Henry had great success in the same specialist field as you now operate in: mergers and acquisitions. It appears that like you (with your admitted undercover agent connections) he also flirted with danger – see Wikipedia extract at foot of email. So it appears that you have a lot in common. A knighthood must be in the pipeline.
REPLY FROM MR WISEMAN RECEIVED THURSDAY 9 November 2006
Dear Mr Donovan.
Some time ago we tried hard, without success, to authenticate the letter. My personal suspicion is that it is an ingenious hoax, but I don’t think we will ever know. It has been doing the rounds for many years.
General Counsel M & A and Project Finance
Shell International Limited
Shell Centre, London SE1 7NA, United Kingdom
Email reply ends…
I am very grateful to Mr Wiseman for his gentlemanly and informative response which readers can take it into account.
THE LETTER IN QUESTION
Dear Mr. Luykx.
I duly received yours of the 22nd ult. regarding Messrs, Rice & Lyons remuneration.
You gave me rather a start with your letter, because I gather from it that you employ solicitors much oftener than we would ever dream of doing.
Although we have an enormous business here, we very rarely consult lawyers. We only do so when there is really a legal difference or legal difficulty, whilst it seems to me that you emp1oy them practica11y in every instance.
Lawyers are not business people, however large a lawyer’s experience may be, in the conduct of business he is absolutely useless. A lawyer placed at the head of a concern would soon bring the business to rack and ruin. He is not a creative genius, he is able to give his opinion, if a case is laid before him, but to ask a lawyer to draw up a contract for you is a most foolish thing to do, as this is bound to lead to trouble. Our custom here is to draw up a contract before having seen the lawyer and then to ask him to put it in a more legal shape. Such a contract is more likely to embody the spirit of what has legal shape. been agreed upon than one drawn up by the lawyer; to ask his opinion as to what you should do or not do is the worst possible way of conducting business which should be kept as far as possible from the lawyers.
It seems to me from your letter as if the lawyers are a kind of department to your business. Their idea that we should be inclined to give them a fixed fee is absurd, but what astonishes me most is their proposal that you should make an arrangement by which one member of their firm should give practically his entire time to the conduct of our affairs. We would never think of such an arrangement. We do not wish a lawyer to give his entire time to our business. We have not got daily disputes, neither do we want to create them. A lawyer absolutely unfit as a business man, he is to give us advice if trouble arises and if you employ him say 6 times a year this can be considered the average maximum. I do not think that we employ a lawyer many more times and our total lawyers bill is considerably less than yours. Messrs. Rice & Lyons’ statement that at the present time the daily routine business of our Company consumes the time and efforts of one member of their firm, is a revelation to me. How can you conduct business in such a way! I hate to see a lawyer in our office, if I want him I go to his office and limit the conversation to the shortest possible period. Allowing a lawyer to be practically in daily touch with me would certainly take 90% of my time which ought to be devoted to money making and not to discussing legal squabbles or legal phraseologies.
EXTRACT from Wikipedia article about Sir Henry Deterding
Henri Wilhelm August Deterding KBE (Hon), (19 April 1866, Amsterdam – 4 February 1939, St Moritz) was for many years the chairman of Royal Dutch Petroleum Company and then Royal Dutch/Shell, one of the world’s largest oil companies. Called the “Napoleon of Oil”, Deterding was responsible for developing the tanker fleet that let Royal Dutch compete with the Shell company of Marcus Samuel. He led Royal Dutch to several major mergers and acquisitions, including a merger with the “Shell” Transport and Trading Company in 1907 and the purchase of Azerbaijan oil fields from the Rothschild family in 1911. Deterding engendered controversy in 1935 when he gave the Nazis a year’s oil reserves on credit and was forced to resign from the company’s board the next year.