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FROM A SHELL INSIDER: Hans Bouman mellowed? An unlikely prospect.


Dear John

I have read your posting today suggesting that Hans Bouman may have mellowed. That is an unlikely prospect.

I like to share something with you.

It was in October 1995 when Moody-Stuart invited all staff from SIPM and KSEPL for a briefing on the imminent transformation of Shell. I remember it well. Mark was carrying on in a beautiful low voice on the need to ‘unleash talent’ and remove controls. We would not need strong hierarchies anymore and would go for ‘self managing teams’. All the business guru jargon of the day was used. He explained the paralels with a soccer team. Not everyone could be a primadonna or star but a good team would win more than a team that consisted of only stars. Self managing was the word and we would do away with bosses but have ‘coaches’ instead. When he was finished questions were invited.

After some mundane and emotional questions from the staff council and an employee with 35 years experience who knew he would have to leave (it was already known that many people would be made redundant) this Bouman stood up to ask a question. He was my Godfather at the time and by far the most senior man to pose a question. Presumably it was all scripted but with his independent mind he must have left his script and after asking a question he also made a personal statement:

‘Mark, I heard your story comparing soccer teams with self managing teams. It all sounded very good. But I hope you realise that here in the Netherlands, if a soccer team is not performing we fire the coach’.

It took some 2-3 seconds when the whole audience exploded gave him a standing ovation. Many of the recently appointed directors were sitting on the front row and were looking ‘not amused’.

Moody-Stuart lost his train of thought and after the roar had died down Bouman had to repeat his question. I guess he signed his death sentence that day, although he lasted quite a while and did well afterwards.

The video that was made of this happening was distributed to all Operating Companies in the world including the remark of Bouman. But soon his remark was removed from the video. Perhaps someone still has that scene???

Knowing him as I do, I doubt that Hans has mellowed! Pity we don’t have these outspoken dutchmen anymore. and its sister websites,,,,, and are all owned by John Donovan. There is also a Wikipedia article.

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