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Leaked Shell email from a high level source noting the moral decline at Shell

By John Donovan

One of our readers, who shall remain nameless, has very kindly provided us with a copy of an internal email circulated in May 2003 by Mr Hans Bouman (a then senior manager at Shell) to a Shell colleague. It is of particular interest because it pre-dates the stunning news of the reserves fraud 8 months later which proved how right Bouman was in his analysis of the moral decline within Shell management. 

We have spoken to a number of our Shell insider sources about “Hans” Bouman. Apparently he had a reputation for being outspoken – a dangerous tendency at a multinational which prefers spin and cover-up rather than integrity and transparency.  However, when we did manage to obtain his email address and made contact, it was soon obvious that Mr Bouman is more cautious these days. No doubt he wishes to enjoy his retirement without being hassled by Shell lawyers. He confirmed the authenticity of the email but would provide no further information.

We understand from sources that Bouman became unpopular with Shell senior management after some of his emails to Jeroen van der Veer (now CEO of Royal Dutch Shell Plc) were published by a national newspaper having been forwarded to them by a third party.  Apparently “Hans” was a prolific author of candid, entertaining emails, which became collector’s items widely circulated within the Shell fraternity.  We would love to see more of them and give them further circulation via our global audience of people interested in Shell.  If you have any, please send them to me: [email protected] 

We will not publish the names of anyone supplying the Bouman emails.  Alternatively, selective extracts can be posted anonymously on our “Live Chat” facility. That way neither we nor anyone else will have a clue about the identity of the person posting the information. 


—–Original Message—–
From: Bouman, Hans MGJ NAM-ELG
Sent: Friday, 09 May, 2003 16:22
To: Mooney, Bobbi BJ SITI-ITDC
Subject: diversity and exclusion

Hello Bobbi

I read your article on diversity and exclusion.

We don’t know each other so let me introduce myself: I am currently in charge of Groningen, the biggest asset in Shell and ExxonMobil. I have been with Shell >30 yrs and stand a real chance of being culled before the end of the year and 2 yrs ahead of NRD. I am widely known within the EP community for my outspokenness.

I read your article with great interest because I have been preaching (a.o.) for the last few years we should do more on real diversity rather than only talk about it. It also reads very easily, you should pick up the pen and write more!

I recognise all behaviours you describe in your stories. However (you knew this was coming!), somehow it does not trigger anything with me. It is my style to care for people, demand hard work and when they do I will stand up for them, even if things go wrong. After reading your article I did not have the feeling that I needed to do something. More a shrugging of shoulders and stating ‘so what’. You have often felt uncomfortable in meetings for a variety of reasons and this occasionally effected your self confidence. I have experienced the same many times, most likely for different reasons.

You describe maybe what is a round peg in a square hole. The ideal solution is for the peg and the hole to mutate into a hexagonal. But I fear life does not work that way. You should (in general) not let a ballet dancer play football or vice versa. We have chosen for our business to be a competitive one and if we are not competitive we are quickly finished as Shell. One can be competitive in various ways and the way in which we behave and act is a result of the structure we have chosen. And now comes the tricky bit: in EP (I cannot really judge for other functions) we publicly state all the good things and behaviours we want. Our senior directors are all quite good when making speeches on this (HSE, performance, diversity, sustainable development, People, Planet, Profit etc). But we reward promise rather than performance and this creates a bad behaviour, we do live in a Darwinian world and you better believe it! We kill each year 25-40 people (mostly 3rd party road accidents) but the CMD still walks away with giant bonusses. We are on a moral decline with Shell, certainly after the departure of Moody-Stuart (one of the rare leaders who NEVER killed a messenger). We have chosen for the dog-eat-dog AngloSaxxon way of doing business (and personally I don’t like it one bit).

We, Shell EP will in the next 24 months make more cash than ever before and be beaten to death (shareprice) for missing 9 external promises. In 1997 it was only 2 external promises (5 % growth and ROACE 15 %), since then we have added a further 7 publically, all interdependent and unachievable. Our entire credibility as an organisation is on the line.

These 7 promises are:

EPs are :
ROACE 15 % at $16/bbl
3 % production growth pa forever
3 % opex reduction per unit volume forever
6-8% NIAT increase pa forever
100 % RRR or better forever
UFC will be less than $1.5 /boe on average

OPs are:
synergies from Enterprise & USA oil products
Unit margins above competitors

And on top of it all: 20% women in top 400 by 2007 I believe

Perhaps you were only fooled by the nice words that we tend to speak in Shell on diversity and your fault was to believe these words. Maybe you should become a bit more of a Kremlin watcher and interpret the words that are being spoken in a different manner.

So, to round off this longish note: I hope you hang in there because you have shown the courage to speak out and we need people like that. Get some coaching not to feel bad but don’t expect behaviours in your meetings to change anytime fast. And it goes too for men, I have observed it and heard it from quite a few: when you are at level jgB/C and above, you have no friends in Shell anymore. And if you have, these would be people you knew from the very early days in your career and who do not work in your proximity anymore. Very sad but also very true. This is the company that we all have created.

Have no fear, I may sound bitter but I am not. I do however continue to rattle that cage until I drift into the mist of obsolescence!

Kind regards

ps I am subscribed to the Planners Newsletter and occasionally speak my mind there too. Go to click Newsletter and find posting N1386. I received dozens of reactions in favour of it.

Hans Bouman

Manager Asset Groningen

Tel: +31 592 3 63276 GSM: 06 201 35 448

Internet: [email protected]

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