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Daily Telegraph: Shell hath seen no fury like a corporate wife scorned

Daily Telegraph: Shell hath seen no fury like a corporate wife scorned

“First Shell lost its oil and gas.”

By Christopher Hope, Business Correspondent (Filed: 17/07/2004)

First Shell lost its oil and gas. Now its wives are losing their reserve after Shell decided not to invite them to a corporate jamboree next year.

Shell is not asking the wives of the company’s heads of finance to next year’s group finance conference, when all Shell’s top money men meet to discuss how to make its sums add up (and not lose any more oil and gas).

Wives were welcome at the last conference, held in 2002 in Marseille in the south of France. But not this time. Not surprisingly, this has left some of them feeling a bit put out. “It’s so unfair, I hardly see my husband anyway,” one wife said.

Shell sources denied that the decision to exclude the wives was linked to its crisis over “lost” proven oil and gas reserves. Earlier this year the company said it had overstated its estimates by 23pc or 4.47 billion barrels.

The decision not to include them was made last September – several months before the first reserves announcement in January.

The company source pointed out that a meeting of the company’s 400 managers in Houston in May was also wifeless. The source said: “There is no policy that wives are invited. It is a decision on an ad hoc basis not to ask spouses.”

Another source said it was evidence of a growing trend in which the company’s interests were always put first. The source said: “It is very much ‘enterprise first, individual second’.”

Shell declined to reveal where the group finance conference was being held next year. A spokesman said: “We can’t comment on individual meetings. But with representatives coming from all over the world we have to use the time we have together to drive the business forward.”

The wives of the employees at Shell are often encouraged to socialise together, especially when their husbands work long hours, leaving them home alone – sometimes in a foreign country. The expat wives of Shell employees working in London meet for regular coffee mornings – a pattern which is repeated in other cities around the globe.

One wife said: “There are two types of Shell wife. There are Shell wives and there are Shell Wives. This second category are following their husbands around the world.

“They can’t work because they have been in foreign locations. So if you are living in Iran, you do gravitate towards other expat wives. Some are very ambitious for their men.”

Vincent Cable, the Liberal Democrat MP for Twickenham, spent seven years working for Shell and was its chief economist from 1995 to 1997. He said that Shell was slowly throwing off some of its more paternalistic characteristics: “They are moving away from the old style company where people joined at 23 and retired at 55-60. There was a sense of loyalty at the company. It is a different type of culture.”

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