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An ‘Open Letter’ by email to Shell CEO Jeroen van der Veer: Subject: Shell Project Management Club in disintegration.

 “How is Shell going to deliver elephant projects without any elephant riders?”

21 September 2007

Dear Mr Van der Veer

I understand that the highly respected and experienced project manager, John Stubbs, resigned after falling out with the Executive Director of Shell EP, Malcolm Brinded, who has never himself actually delivered a frontier project.

According to our information the Kashagan “Cash All Gone” project was the catalyst for his resignation.

I have set out below the information accumulated from a number of insider sources.

The story as we have it…

John Stubbs was rewarded for his good work in Bonga with promotion into the top league of Shell, being made a member of the SEG – “Senior Executive Group”, or alternatively, in view of the prodigious extinction rate of the species, “Seriously Endangered Genre”.

He was dispatched by Brinded to sort out the Kashagan mess which we understand is probably an impossible task. As you will be aware, Shell has an embarrassing past history with the project. In 1997 Agip (Eni), Statoil, Mobil, Shell, Total, BP and BG were the consortium members. The project was led by Shell in the exploration phase. After serious delays were encountered, Shell’s partners nicknamed Kashagan “Cash All Gone” and eventually completely lost patience with Shell. A new field operator was chosen: Eni. Unfortunately the project has turned out to be too big for an incompetent ENI with matters made even more perilous due to demands by the Kazakhstan government, copying Putin’s strong arm example in renegotiation tactics of PSA’s. 

Stubbs was confronted by an over-budget out-of-control shambles and advised Brinded that he did not want the assignment. Brinded bluntly told him to take it or leave. Stubbs resigned. The bullying tactics had backfired and Shell lost another of its most experienced and talented project managers. We understand that as with the Bill Campbell crisis, also involving Malcolm Brinded, an attempt has been made to pacify Stubbs in the hope he will withdraw his resignation.

Stubbs will be joining the growing number of thoroughly disillusioned and under-appreciated members of frontier Shell Project Management who have recently left Shell or retired, or moved into more comfortable non career threatening jobs.

Without experienced inspirational leaders such as Stubbs, David Greer, Mike Thomas, Chuck Enze, Bill Luyties, Bourgeois, Goudsmit, Erlings, Bierema, etc, etc, who does Shell have left to deliver your much trumpeted elephant projects?

We are told that none were properly appreciated or valued at Shell despite all the hot air about Shell Project Academy. People of such high calibre are of course eagerly sought after by your competitors. They must be delighted that the incompetence and ego of Brinded is inflicting huge damage on the morale of his senior managers, driving many to despair and departure.

With the haemorrhaging of Project Management leadership of such high quality, Shell’s reserves will remain in the ground, worthless, like senior management who our sources claim, have failed to see the rot within its own ranks.

How is Shell going to deliver elephant projects without any elephant riders?

Incidentally, we also hear from high level sources that several hundred redundancies are in the pipeline for EP and NAM.

Finally, the following are extracts from comments received from a Shell insider in relation to the Reuters article revealing the departure of John Stubbs.

I read your entry on the resignation of John Stubbs (Tue Sep 4, 2007 7:33 PM BST By Tom Bergin) and completely agree with some of the sentiments expressed in that article. No company can afford to lose so much talent in such a relatively short period. It is clear that many of the good hands are leaving (and some are asked to leave because Brinded never could stand people who might have a mind of their own and refuse to follow his ‘aspirational’ target setting). The headhunters are having a field day!!

I worry who will now be the role models of our younger staff? Certainly not Brinded or Cook in their gilded cages.  And v.d.Veer used to be a first class role model: clever, pragmatic, decent. But he has been ‘rescuing’ RDS for so long now, even he has succumbed to spinstories rather than fixing the problem.

Yours sincerely
John Donovan

Open Letter Ends

The Reuters article: Reuters: Shell loses exec on troubled Kazakh project-source

The correspondence with Shell relating to this article will be published separately.

This is the standard comment from Shell in relation to such articles as the one published above…

“The lack of a rebuttal from, or comment by, Shell does not in any way constitute an acceptance on Shell’s part of the accuracy of any of the points made by you, whether now or in the future, and whether on this or on any other matter, and we continue to reserve our position accordingly in respect of those matters.” and its sister non-profit websites,,,,,, and are owned by John Donovan. There is also a Wikipedia feature.

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