By John Donovan
An Open Letter to Shell CEO, Jeroen van der Veer
Hello Mr Van der Veer
I have just received a copy of what appears to be your latest attempt to revive flagging employee morale. You invited feedback, but perhaps not from the recipient of a leaked email, even if a bona fide member of Royal Dutch Shell Plc (which I am). Your email is notable more for what is missing than for the usual banal BS propaganda.
The double Dutch BS: In regards to the BS, I have noticed your reference to Shell’s claimed “core values: honesty, integrity and respect for people.” You really are an old fraud. I personally brought to your attention a conspiracy by Shell managers to deceive and cheat companies pitching for what was supposed to be a fair tender process for a major Shell contract. We supplied irrefutable documentary proof. You and your charlatan colleagues ignored the evidence and gave unqualified support to the dishonest Shell mastermind behind the deception.
No one gave a fig for the suppliers who had been duped: so much for respect for people. This was when we realised that Shell management was rotten at the core. Our extensive warnings to all and sundry, including Her Majesty Queen Beatrix, were ignored and the reserves fraud followed.
Conspicuous by its absence: There is no mention whatsoever in your email of the current Sakhalin II crisis which is now certain to derail your reserves replacement plans. Shell management has surrendered after admitting multiple contraventions of environmental permits which led to action by the Russian environmental agency involving the so called “Kremlin attack dog”, Mr Oleg Mitvol, deputy head of Rosprirodnadzor. According to an article in The Guardian over the weekend, it appears that one consequence will be another reserves rebooking (downgrading). There in not a single word in your email about this public humiliation of Shell which has made news headlines around the globe? Shell is of course used to being the bully, not the bullied. We are making contact this week with Mark Stephens, a partner at the London law firm Finers Stephens Innocent, retained to advise Rosprirodnadzor on its legal options, which reportedly include a claim for $30 billion in damages against Sakhalin Energy. We have further evidence in addition to the key leaked Shell emails which Mitvol has acknowledged receiving from me. A number of organisations, including The Moscow Times, have confirmed the authenticity of the documents in question. We published a letter today from an Ogoni student organisation to the President of Nigeria complaining about the plundering and pollution in Nigeria by Shell Oil in relation to hydrocarbon reserves. The Russians are of course an entirely different proposition.
Your invitation for people to “speak up”: Look what happened to Dr John Huong when he spoke up? The poor fellow is now buried in defamation and contempt proceedings by EIGHT Royal Dutch Shell companies. A gagging “interim injunction” is still in place – 2007 will take the injunction into its third year. What kind of incentive is that for Shell employees to “speak up”? You even closed down the Tell Shell Forum for uncensored debate after we exposed the fact that it was in fact being secretly censored. Your General Counsel Richard Wiseman has admitted the censorship policy. You say one thing in your email, but your actions send an entirely different message. Fortunately we have been able to provide an alternate internet venue for genuine uncensored debate – our Live Chat forum. It has been sizzling with chatter about Sakhalin II, very little of it complimentary about Shell management.
To cheer up Dr Huong I have sent him a nice Christmas present. I came across it while compiling evidence in support of allegations made against Shell. It is a book authored by Louis Wesseling who was chief executive of Shell Vietnam in the last three years of the Vietnam War. It is a well written captivating account of the inside story, including the usual double dealing by Shell i.e. supplying both sides of the conflict. It includes reference to an interesting Shell employee, Ex-Colonel Le Van Phuoc and “unveils the behind-the-scenes manipulation and skulduggery that formed this unknown part of the Vietnam conflict.” Wesseling also served as CEO of Shell companies in the Middle East and South America, and collaborated on drafting the Shell Business Principles and the OECD Guidelines for Multinationals.
Printed below is your email followed by extracts from the book: FUELLING THE WAR: REVEALING AN OIL COMPANY’S ROLE IN VIETNAM.
1: EMAIL TO SHELL EMPLOYEES
(I noticed there is no mention of a XMAS Bonus for Shell staff, or even any seasonal greetings – I guess you must be too busy with all the white flag flights to Moscow)
Recently, we received the results of the Shell People Survey, which showed that the mood in the company has improved since the last time we asked for your views. Not a surprise – the last survey was conducted in 2004, the year we had to restate our reserves. More than 85,000 people responded – thank you!
The results are being widely shared in the coming weeks. Throughout Shell, our leaders will look at the situation in their units. My message is “take action where needed”.
For me, the Shell People Survey is an opportunity to reflect on leadership.
We use the word leaders widely in Shell. I believe it is the right word to use. Why? In order to deliver and grow, our large company depends greatly on leadership at every level.
We depend on people who set and achieve goals with others. Being a good leader is partly the ability to manage teams so that the right results are achieved. But the leader is not just the boss. You can lead something or inspire others without being the boss. And you have to earn the role, in your team and with others.
Most Shell people have had many bosses. I have had 25! Some of them were good bosses, and others not so good. To me, a good boss is someone with a heart for people. She or he is not soft or lenient but can be strict and straightforward. And always fair and supportive.
One such boss I knew was the head of the workshops in Pernis, our refinery in The Netherlands. On a hot summer day, a worker complained to him about the heat, saying his sweat was dripping onto his piece of work. The boss listened, smiled, clapped the worker on the shoulder and said: “Make sure you clean it off well, otherwise your piece of work will rust.” In other words – “don’t complain, get on with it”.
I have seen many different styles of leadership, and I know that different styles work, as long as the leader is authentic and not contrived.
Good leaders have a vision for their unit and where to go. Also how their unit fits into the company strategy. They can explain this in a simple way.
They also know your weak points and will make clear to you how to improve.
In my view, good leaders don’t just cheer on their teams by saying everything is great. They make demands, check on delivery promises and provide help when help is needed. All in line with our core values: honesty, integrity and respect for people.
Good leadership is not sitting around for days with your team just discussing things. In business, we must discuss options and dilemmas (but not endlessly). And then we must decide and act.
I think modesty and humility are underestimated leadership qualities. I mean thinking about the company first and understanding that we are all in the service of this enterprise.
Someone with that attitude will be more respected than a leader who talks big and shouts at his or her teams “on behalf of Shell”. I have seen that, and I do not like it.
Today, leadership in Shell is also keeping an eye on where we are going. I gave the example myself by painting my vision for 2015. What are the changes we must undertake so that we can realise our 2015 position?
Perhaps our foremost role is to keep standards high in our professional workforce. So, it is not only about leaders or bosses. It is about being more professional, so that each and every one of us can be a leader in our own field of activity.
The 2006 Shell People Survey shows concern about job security. As we globalise, such uncertainty is understandable. There is no quick fix. This may sound harsh, but job security can really only come from our own personal efforts to develop.
Some Shell people also feel career development possibilities should be better. I think Shell provides good career opportunities, so this feeling is a concern to me. We need to understand why some of our people feel this way.
It may also be a signal that our systems, like open resourcing, can be improved. So, we must commit to developing our people and keep progression open to all and based on merit – and taking diversity into account.
The survey also shows that the higher up the hierarchy our people are, the more satisfied they are. This is a key challenge.
I would quite frankly rather have dissatisfied top leaders driving change, with a more satisfied workforce pulling in the same direction.
So what can we do to address this? Do we have the “tools” to act? I think we do.
Compared to the competition, our leaders already have high authority levels and our specialists much freedom. That should help us to act with urgency.
Of course, this freedom must be exercised in a disciplined way. It is all about common standards, strategic choices and “sameness” (no exceptions), as we strive for first-quartile performance. I also like to emphasise both teamwork and discipline.
What can you do, in your job? Think about how to be a good leader. Listen to your team. Hear what the team members say. Use common sense. Let your team members speak up and take initiative. Help your team – and your own leader – keep both feet on the ground. And as a team member, it is up to you to take initiative, to speak up!
And, speaking of feet, make sure you’re not too big for your boots.
If you would like to send me your feedback, please click here.
Jeroen van der Veer
The above email is a prime example of the huge gap between Shell management rhetoric and reality.
TWO: FUELLING THE WAR: REVEALING AN OIL COMPANY’S ROLE IN VIETNAM. (By Louis Wesseling)
April 1975, Saigon. US helicopters cumbersomely lift off from the roof of the American Embassy, heavily laden with fleeing diplomats, military officers and senior officials. The image has become an icon for an era, symbolizing in the most dramatic terms an American trauma whose impact has been felt throughout the world ever since.
Twenty-five years after that retreat, Fuelling the War reveals an unusual dimension of that conflict. It tells the story of the role of oil in Vietnam. In the process it sheds fascinating light on the murky relationship between war and commerce.
In the last three years of the Vietnam War, 1972-1975, Louis Wesseling was Chief Executive of Shell Vietnam. The company controlled half of the country’s oil supply, which was purchased by the Americans, used by the South Vietnamese and fought for by the Vietcong and the North Vietnamese. Revealed here for the first time is how American oil supplies also ended up fuelling the communist armies, with Shell failing to control shipments which flowed through indirect channels to the `enemy’.
The action mostly takes place in Saigon, among ambassadors, generals, politicians, bankers, businessmen, CIA agents, spies and hustlers. For the first time, Wesseling unveils the behind-the-scenes manipulation and skulduggery that formed this unknown part of the Vietnam conflict.
Written with the power of a thriller, Fuelling the War makes an important contribution to our understanding of one of the most perplexing episodes of twentieth-century history.
EXTRACTS FROM PAGES 34 & 35
Ex-Colonel Le Van Phuoc: Murder, mayhem, corruption and blackmail. (Our heading)
My host and guide on this trip was one of our more forceful branch managers and undisputed master on his own terrain. He stood waiting on the airfield, a solid man with a soils neck and a square head, with a hairline starting just above the eyebrows. As often with powerfully-built men, the eyes could look curiously helpless at times. Ex-Colonel Le Van Phuoc had a fearsome and well-deserved reputation as the top policeman of former Head of State Ngo Dinh Diem.
Amongst other military achievements, he was credited with the eviction of the militant Buddhists from the Saigon pagodas in 1963. The brutality of the action, recorded on TV, had raised world-wide indignation and contributed to the American approval of a military coup, which led to the downfall of the regime and eventually to the murder of his boss, President Diem.
Well before that chain of events, as chief of a fiercely-contested province, he had already shown his inclination to settle security matters by military action, with little compunction about killing, innocents along with suspects. It certainly subdued the province, but – to say the least – made him unpopular in the process.
After his hurried departure from the army under Diem’s successors, Shell, for reasons I still found hard to understand, had saved his livelihood by employing him, and Phuoc had served us unstintingly in return, especially through the use of his network of contacts with old military friends.
His installations were often attacked, but never successfully. Gratefully making use of his extraordinary achievements in the field of security, I wondered nevertheless what future a sophisticates: company could offer a man whose main qualities seemed to be loyalty, discipline and military ruthlessness. But I soon came to appreciate his fox-like cunning too.
In its enthusiasm to make General Truong a national hero, the American embassy had also built him up as an example of personal incorruptibility. It was this overblown reputation that Phuoc had cleverly manipulated to his advantage. In Phuoc’s relations with civilian authorities, ‘gifts’ for small favours, as he called them, were a way of life. Province chiefs collected them as a sort of business tax. Most were modest petty-cash payments for expediting the clearance of documents and of allowances which were due anyway. A big man like Phuoc needed to dispense a certain amount of largesse around him.
Relations with the military were much more sensitive. The oil Phuoc routinely delivered was worth a fortune to anybody, and certainly to the officers who signed for receipt. Officer salaries were steadily eroded by inflation, and not sufficient to support a family, while the oil under their control constituted a fortune in an appreciating easily convertible currency. So tank exercises would be planned, scheduled and even reported in the press, but not executed. This all of a sudden liberated tons of product for the black market. Phuoc, though not personally involved, knew how to take advantage of these goings on. One day he marched up to the incorruptible Truong and privately handed him a slip of Shell stationery with all the detailed proof of his staff officers’ involvement in fuel trafficking, asking him what he was going to do about it. They had looked at each other in silence for a long time. Clearly, not even Truong – certainly not in his precarious military position – could afford to act against his own officers on any large scale. On the other hand, Phuoc had counted on these facts of life to give him a stranglehold over Truong, should the general ever think of lifting a finger against Shell. And in sharing this information with me in a light-hearted way, he made me an accomplice too. Perhaps Phuoc, with his deviousness, was the right man in the right place after all. It seemed part of an elaborate game: everybody needed to gain a hold on everyone else in Vietnam. It was part of the system.
*Link was not in the email. It was added on 12 Jan 2007.