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Royal Dutch Shell CEO Jeroen van der Veer: Master of Double Dutch

By John Donovan

The Times published an article yesterday, 5 January, ridiculing Jeroen van der Veer, the CEO of Royal Dutch Shell Plc. It accused him of talking in “gibberish” in relation to news of Shell IT job cuts.  His comments leaked to the website were in defense of previous leaks about the job cuts published on the same website which resulted in a deluge of news media stories on a global basis over the Christmas/New Year period.

The Times article openly compared Jeroen van der Veer with the late Jerome K. Jerome, an author renowned for writing comic masterpieces.

The leaked Shell internal communication dated 3 January on which the Martin Waller article was based was supplied to him by on 3 January. It is but one of many damaging leaks made to the website, some of which brought about the downfall last year of David Greer, a Shell Managing Director. At the time of his “resignation”, Greer was Deputy Chief Executive of Sakhalin Energy and Project Director of Sakhalin-2, the mega-project in Russia. Leaks made to the same website cost Shell its ownership role in the project.

Shell internal documents obtained last year under the UK Data Protection law revealed that Shell had set up a team to try to counter the activities of the website which operates under the precise dotcom domain name for the company Royal Dutch Shell Plc. In 2005, Shell unsuccessfully attempted to seize the domain name in proceedings made via the World Intellectual Property Organisation.

Many newspapers including the Wall Street Journal, covered the story.

The ridicule levelled at Jeroen van der Veer in The Times yesterday as a result of the latest leak to the website could have been avoided if van der Veer had paid any attention to the article below, authored by Alfred Donovan (my father), published over two years ago in the wake of the Shell reserves fraud. Royal Dutch Shell CEO Jeroen van der Veer, Master of Double Dutch

Saturday 27 August 2005: 11.20 ET

By Alfred Donovan

Have you noticed that Jeroen van der Veer, the new CEO of Royal Dutch Shell Plc has invented a new hybrid form of the English language?  

His opening address at the Business Week 2004 meeting of senior Shell managers held in Houston on 26 May 2004, provided an example of the jargon filled language he has developed. This often unintelligible babble could perhaps be the mythical lingo known as double-dutch. Examples were sprinkled throughout his speech, which to be fair, was meant for Shell internal use only. It was leaked almost before he finished speaking. 

Mr Van der Veer also made a number of important admittances in his speech. The extracts below are not necessarily in the precise order used. 


This is a speech for all of us: for you, for CMD, including myself.

Our strategy is simple: more upstream and profitable downstream.

In the upstream in the next 3-4 years we must build the foundations for strong future growth by prolonging our heartlands, by stepping up exploration spend and success; and by investing heavily to build new heartlands – especially based on gas; and by rebuilding our skills.

But if I look over the past years, I wonder, has-the balance between “Enterprise first” and ‘Self first” moved too much to “Self first”?

Do we fix our problems by making a plan full of overstretch or unattainable targets? We have huge project overruns; we have had failures in our production forecasts; we have had the reserves issue. Many downstream assets do not have first quartile performance, but do we kid ourselves that we are first quartile people?

Or did it erode professionalism, corporate cohesion, “Enterprise first” thinking and loyalty?

No optionality that behaviours in Upstream are different from Downstream: We Live Apart Together.

Finally, what is the reward when we achieve this step change in our company behaviours? The prize is that we become a world-wide professional network with discipline that performs in a first quartile way in all aspects. This means we are all first quartile and it feels great to be part of it.

So, the change is from where we are now to being First Quartile with the right behaviours. That will be the basis on which we, together, can rebuild Shell’s reputation and performance. And this meeting is a key step in doing just that.

We are going through a very difficult time in the history of Shell. We are a strong company but some serious mistakes were made. I realise this may have shaken your trust and confidence in your leaders. I’m very sorry about this.

Our integrity is questioned both internally and externally. I myself feel shocked, dismayed and ashamed at what has happened, and I imagine you must feel the same.

I hope we can all learn from this and together can take Shell, our company, forward. As leaders, we have a responsibility to leave here today with a clear vision of our way forward. So, we need straight talking, clear thinking and humility. We have more problems than just the reserves issue.

We will spend some time today on what has happened, and on our strategy, on concrete steps forward, as well as on our behaviours.


How anyone could leave the meeting with a clear understanding of anything after having to listen to such babble (incomprehensible claptrap) is beyond me. The man talks in riddles. My guess is that many left scratching their heads. It is true that I am 88 years old and perhaps a new business language has evolved without me being aware. Personally I prefer plain language. 

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