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From our archive: ‘…Malcolm Brinded is certainly lying when he states that he did not know’

From a Shell Insider: “…Malcolm Brinded is certainly lying when he states that he did not know”: Mon 20 Feb 2006 04:27 AM EST

Mr Donovan

After reading some contributions to your site of insiders it made me decide to share something with you and your readers. Perhaps you see it fit to publish, I have no other avenue to vent my frustration and very deep anger.

Of late the networks have highlighted the treatment of prisoners by Americans in their prisons for presumed terrorists. At least to me it has become very clear that there has been a fundamental flaw in the command structure of the armed forces. And I am cynical enough to believe this flaw was designed and knowingly created by the ‘brass’ and top politicians.

They first brainwashed the soldiers (mostly non professionals and reservists who only joined the army to have medical insurance and get an education) via direct messages and via the various media that are under their control to prepare them psychologically to commit acts that most of them would never dream of doing in a normal life, whether or not these acts comply with the Geneva Convention. I am a mere engineer and not a psychologist so I am out of my depth here. But I am convinced that if you repeat messages time and again that your enemies are all evil terrorists, people will start to believe this, especially if they are in an elevated state of stress such as a war in Iraq. Next the brass (from the president down) says that no stone must be left unturned to get the truth out of the prisoners to defend the nation of good citizens and god fearing Americans, and the foundation is laid to get excesses. To top it off you put reserve personnel in charge of these prisons and interrogation and on purpose do not arrange for extra controls to check how things go, and you have disasters in the making.

Praise the interrogators if they come up with some ‘confessions’ beaten out of prisoners, real or simply made up, remove anyone that wants to say that this is wrong, and the result is very easy to predict. No instructions to do bad things will be on paper so the brass can always blame the little guys at the coalface. They overstepped and need to be punished. And you hand out severe prison sentences to simple soldiers who thought they were merely following orders. I guess this happens in all wars and if you quickly score a victory, it can all be covered up many years, enough to erase the tracks of the real culprits. The winner takes all and is right!

However, in this era of digital cameras and internet, there are fewer secrets. Images can be circulated globally and instantly. And then there is real trouble and on a global scale. It is totally beyond me that the advisors to the president and top brass did not see this coming. I leave that to psychologists to analyze and explain.

Why this long story and what does it have to do with Shell?

The whole reserves problem as well as the extremely poor project management that Shell is experiencing the last few years is almost a carbon copy of what happened to the armed forces. Great changes, such as the large reorganisation started by Herkstroeter in 1994, created great stress in the workforce. These changes were considered unnecessary by Bob Sprague, one of the cleverest people who ever worked for Shell. But initially this was still fairly positive stress and it led to a feeling of freedom and desire to conquer and improve the world. Remember, at that time we were the biggest and the best oil company and had been since the mid 70s! So there was still a lot of latent know-how and professionalism around, which the company cannibalised in creating a ‘new Shell’ with ‘self managing teams’, ‘Olympic targets’, ‘unleashing talent’ and other trendy nonsense. It even led to record profits in one year, I believe it was 1997.

But by then the company was getting (with the explicit knowledge of the top brass) into the hands of people who were only motivated by personal rewards, and who smelled their chance. None of that ‘Enterprise First’ stuff. It was ‘Me first’ and all the snouts were in the trough and nobody wanted to take their snout out of the trough. Anyone complaining or making remarks that things were not right was publicly destroyed and removed. And those with their snouts in the trough started to make promises and ever more ridiculous demands. When Watts came to power (he actually stole that job at the time with his gorilla talk and behaviour) the pigs were truly feeding. Explicit instructions to cook the books or ‘err on the high side’ were hardly given in written form or were at least well disguised. It was said and whispered in meetings, conferences and workshops and personal discussions during the annual staff evaluation time. There were clear instructions to aim for the impossible with those stretched targets and anyone who said he could go even further or higher was handsomely rewarded with promotions or fat bonuses.

Brinded was a real champion of this, he was #2 and later MD in Shell Expro and I believe they missed their business targets for 7 years in a row under his reign!

So, the foundation was laid and Watts started his circus with new and bigger promises every year. And then it became unsustainable and the truth came out. We have internet, everyone knows what has happened and why it happened.

But to prove that in a court of law will be very difficult. And with the vast profits created by high oil prices, the top brass can buy all the time they need and hire the most expensive lawyers to keep them out of prison. All paid for with the shareholders’ money.

To illustrate how difficult it will be to prove, consider the following story. I recently confronted a colleague who works on the Sakhalin project and told him that I had known that the project would be severely over budget in early May 2005. The word was out and a figure of $15.5 billion was being suggested by project managers from Sakhalin. How come, I asked him, that Malcolm Brinded and Jeroen van der Veer claim they did not know? The answer was very simple: Brinded was told there were severe problems and his response was: ‘give me a report as soon as you have the exact details and know precisely how much and what’. This led to a further delay and a week after the deal with Gazprom was announced, out came the surprise statement of the $20 billion and enormous time overrun. But there are probably no documents showing that Malcolm Brinded and Jeroen van der Veer knew. They are genuinely clever people. But in my simple world, the boss should know how his most expensive project is progressing, even if it is not exact all the time. So, Malcolm Brinded is certainly lying when he states that he did not know. He means he had no formal report.

And Jeroen van der Veer should step down because he either knew and lied or he did not know and that is just as bad for someone in his position.

I apologise for this longish note but it helped to reduce my anger. I hope others will follow and you will publish this on your great site. I think the top echelons in Shell by now know there are no secrets anymore.

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