(Former Royal Dutch Shell Executive, Paddy Briggs)
The Guardian: Oil boss sees no answers blowing in the wind
BY TERRY MACALISTER
Shell’s spin doctors will be very pleased with this bland and unrevealing puff piece. Let’s first correct the inaccuracies. Jeroen van der Veer was not paid £2.9m in 2006 as the article states. In fact his total compensation according to the Shell annual report was £5.2m in that year and this report also reveals that special arrangements have been made by Shell to ensure that when he retires in 2008 Mr van der Veer will be entitled to an annual pension well into seven figures. Terry Macalister should have done his homework better. At the Shell AGM this year there were pointed questions from the floor about how much Jeroen and the other high priced help pay themselves. Elsewhere in Friday’s Guardian the subject of Directors’ p[ay was discussed – but not only did Macalister not press the Shell CEO on this issue he even suggested that his pay was below par – a “relatively modest salary”. What nonsense!
Why did Macalister not press van der Veer on the many Health and Safety issues that have recently been prominent in the public domain? Or about the disgrace of Corrib? Why did he not ask Jeroen about his (Jeroen’s) personal involvement in the reserves debacle – remember that he was on the Committee of Managing Directors throughout the time that this scandal was unfolding.
On Sakhalin why did Terry Macalister not ask about the management failures on site – revealed by the David Greer “resignation”? Or about the fact that the real reason for Shell’s humiliation was that they drove far too hard a bargain in the first place when Russia was weak (and richly rewarded the executives who got this unsustainable deal at the time)? And why did he not question the Shell CEO on the succession at Shell – a subject of great interest in the energy world? Will Shell bring in someone from outside for the first time to run the company when van der Veer retires next year – or will it be one of the current team who benefits from Buggins turn?
What about the Downstream? Nowhere in this long article is there any acknowledgment that Shell is one of the world’s biggest branded retailers with the largest network of petrol stations in the world? You wouldn’t know from the article that Shell was even in this business – although in the UK Shell’s share is much reduced. An insider told me recently that Shell Retail is now no. 4 in UK – behind Esso, BP and Tesco. The “Select” convenience store brand has almost gone. Why? My source told me that in Europe “capricious managers are indulging themselves with Strategy Reviews and other intellectual excitements – which is not what Retail is about”. And that “our shops are a disgrace and that the overall appearance of the sites is awful – bulbs out; Prime Sign pricing units not maintained; and frequently dirty”. Most Guardian readers are motorists and not even to acknowledge that Shell is in the petrol retailing business by asking van der Veer about it was a bad omission.
The only real “revelation” in the article was the seemingly trivial one that Mr. van der Veer says that he cycles to work at weekends “because petrol is expensive” – a remark as offensive as it is absurd. As a former Shell employee for 37 years, and one who is now active in the Shell pensioner interest in the UK, I take great exception to this remark – even if it was meant to be ironic. The average pension for the 30,000 Shell pensioners in the UK is around £14,000 per annum – a decent enough amount but no more than they worked for and are entitled to. At the lower end of the scale there are many Shell pensioners making do on pensions of a few hundred pounds a month. For these poorer pensioners the price of petrol really does matter – and for the many of them that are also infirm cycling at weekends may not be an option either! If your potential pension is around seventy times the average I suppose that it might be difficult to get your mind around poverty – even if for some that poverty is genteel. But you would hope that a “cost-conscious Calvinist” might try – or that a more skilled interviewer would see that this is a matter on which to press him.
Paddy worked for Shell for 37 years during the last fifteen of which he was responsible for Brand management in a number of appointments. He was the winner of the “Shell/Economist” writing prize (internal) in 2001. Paddy retired from Shell in 2002 to form the brand consultancy BrandAware ™ and to write and speak on brand and reputation matters.