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Daily Telegraph: Shell empire can strike back with new leadership and some glasnost

Daily Telegraph: Shell empire can strike back with new leadership and some glasnost

“The company would certainly benefit from the appointment of a serious outside financial public relations adviser…”: “If the new Ollila/van der Veer partnership really can change the culture of this introverted empire, there seems no reason why, one day, it shouldn’t be as widely admired as BP.”

Friday 5 August 2005

When Royal Dutch Shell was looking for its new chairman, the board might have mused about their ideal candidate: someone young enough to be more than a figurehead, who had done a big job supremely well, who was neither British nor Dutch, who spoke excellent English, who could understand both sums and engineering, but who wasn’t steeped in the traditions of the oil industry.

The chances of Egon Zender actually finding such a paragon must have seemed vanishingly small, but in Jorma Ollila, it seems they have got their man. We will not be told who the other five were on the short list, but none of them can have ticked quite as many of the right boxes as the man who turned Nokia from a little loss-making conglomerate into the world’s leading mobile phone maker. In his 13 years in charge, he had multiplied its value by almost 400 times, perhaps the most successful corporate transformation anywhere on the planet in the past decade.

The hope now is that he can play the Peter Sutherland role, allowing chief executive Jeroen van der Veer to emulate the success of Lord Browne at BP. There is certainly a new desire for glasnost at the top of Royal Dutch Shell (as the newly-merged business is called) although it does not yet extend to the vast internal civil service below. The company would certainly benefit from the appointment of a serious outside financial public relations adviser, for example.

For all the traumas of the past couple of years, and the blunder over forcing a tax liability on British holders of Royal Dutch shares, this remains a very strong company, which is generating awesome amounts of cash with the oil price at these levels. If the new Ollila/van der Veer partnership really can change the culture of this introverted empire, there seems no reason why, one day, it shouldn’t be as widely admired as BP.

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