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Former Shell Exec Paddy Briggs comments on the article: Jeroen van der Veer cuts a deal with U.S. Attorneys

Former Shell Exec Paddy Briggs comments on the article: Jeroen van der Veer cuts a deal with U.S. Attorneys

Jeroen van der Veer cuts a deal with U.S. Attorneys

The substantive point about all of these processes is to understand the decision-making culture of Shell at the time of the reserves scandal and in the years before. Although Phil Watts was arguably the most hands on CEO that the Shell Group ever had he could not possibly have acted alone on most of the actions and decisions at issue. The CMD minutes show how every significant decision was discussed at CMD level and this confirms that there was unquestionably a collective responsibility. True Watts was a primus-inter-pares but all of the Managing Directors would have been present when major issues were debated. In 2002/2003 the CMD comprised at various times Watts, Walter van de Wijver, Jeroen van der Veer, Paul Skinner, Rob Routs, Malcolm Brinded and Judie Boynton.  The CMD had no official status in law (although all of its members were also Directors of Shell Transport and Trading or Royal Dutch) but it was unquestionably the only top decision making body that counted.

A very important detail to remember is that Shell for a very long time indeed  had been obsessively concerned about legal liability in the United States. Indeed as recently as the early 1990s travel by Central Offices employees to Shell Oil (the US subsidiary) was carefully controlled and only specially approved individuals were allowed to go to Houston. The main reason for this was to remove from the frame the possibility that the whole of the Shell Group’s business could be subject to the jurisdiction of American courts. This gradually changed and the American business became much more integrated into the rest of the Group. But it was undoubtedly top of the mind both before the Group acquired all of the reminder Shell Oil’s stock (in 1985) and for quite a while afterwards.

So in the run up to the reserves scandal in 2003 there can be little doubt that all CMD members would have been acutely aware of the implications of false disclosure and other liability risk areas and of the dangers of processes following in American civil courts. Whether this means that they were collectively and severally liable for the false reserves disclosures we shall presumably eventually find out. But knowing the system I would be extremely surprised if any conclusion is reached other than that there was a strong measure of collective responsibility and that anyone who was a member of the CMD at that time shares that responsibility to some extent. This despite the ongoing attempts to try and lay the blame only with Watts, van de Wijver and Boynton.

© Paddy Briggs 12th February 2008
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.

http://www.brandaware.co.uk/

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