Royal Dutch Shell Plc  .com Rotating Header Image FOCUS: Brinded, Cook, Voser Lead Shell Insiders For Top Job

1-28-08 5:47 AM EST

LONDON -(Dow Jones)- Malcolm Brinded, Royal Dutch Shell PLC’s (RDSB.LN) head of exploration and production, is competing with the head of gas and power and the chief financial officer for the top job at the company, according to company insiders.
The challenge posed by Linda Cook, the head of gas and power, and Chief Financial Officer Peter Voser underscores the shifting nature of Shell’s business. The gas business and financial discipline now have higher priority than they used to, say current and former company staff.

Shell said it would name a chief executive to replace the current one, Jeroen van der Veer, in 2009. It also said it would prefer an internal successor to van der Veer but wouldn’t rule out an outsider. It declined to comment further.

Voser, Cook and Brinded didn’t respond to requests for comment and Shell’s press office didn’t make them available.

BG Group PLC (BG.LN) Chief Executive Frank Chapman, a former Shell manager, has been considered a potential outside candidate, said one person.

Van der Veer’s departure has been delayed by a year partly because the company wasn’t sure who should follow him, say people familiar with the situation.

Brinded historically would have ticked all the boxes for a Shell CEO. He’s British and the Anglo-Dutch Shell likes to alternate between Dutch and British chief executives, said Paddy Briggs, a retired company executive who worked in the Middle East. He’s also head of the exploration and production business, traditionally the route to the top at major oil companies.

Cook is an American and Voser is Swiss. Voser may also be handicapped because he left Shell for several years. Shell usually gives the top job to a lifelong employee.

Brinded wins praise from many colleagues, including critics, for his technical ability, resolve and stamina, and mastery of detail. But his passion for technology sometimes hampers good communications, say those who know him.

One colleague recalled him going into a marathon of meetings in a thorny negotiation after an overnight flight from Rotterdam. When he left about 12 hours later, most of the issues had been resolved.

Hans Bouman, a retired Dutch Shell manager who, like Brinded, started his career in the mid 1970s in Brunei, said Brinded got his breakthrough in the 1980s, when he was the leader of the so-called SLIM innovation project.

The project allowed a significant reduction in required maintenance on subsea wells, resulting in greater safety and less required manpower, said Bouman.

His handling of minutiae is legendary.

“He sometimes knows project details better than the engineer in charge,” Bouman said. “Following a review of company projects some years ago, it was decided he would personally oversee 100 out of the 170 biggest ones.”

But people who know Brinded say his attention to detail gets in the way of communicating effectively.

In an instance in 2004, when he became head of upstream, he found incomplete technical studies on the Sakhalin II project in Russia. When he sought to explain an issue to partners at Mitsui & Co. Ltd. (8031.TO) and Mitsubishi Corp. (MSBHY), they took offense at the detail, thinking they had appeared as ignorant, said a person familiar with it. They sent subordinates to a later meeting.

Mitsui and Mitsubishi spokesmen said only they have a good relationship with Shell.

Brinded may also be tainted by delays and the doubling of costs at Sakhalin II even though many problems arose from decisions made before his arrival, say current and former employees.

Those weaknesses are potentially opening the door for contenders Cook and Voser, said the current and former staff.

One Shell manager who asked not to be named said Cook would send the message that Shell understands that the oil industry is changing from a male-dominated world to one that needs the best brains. Cook is currently the only woman on Shell’s executive board.

She has built cordial relationships in the conservative but gas-rich Middle East, particularly with Qatar Energy Minister Abdullah Bin Hamad Al-Attiyah, said the manager.

“Cook’s quite rapid rise is certainly a fair reflection of her abilities,” Briggs said. “But there is a more than sneaking impression that being a woman has helped, creating some impression of diversity on the board.”

Her appointment would signal more emphasis on gas, such as Qatar’s Pearl GTL and liquefied-natural-gas projects. Every time gas generates good news, such as Pearl’s approval in 2006, she advances one notch toward CEO, one manager added.

Cook’s stature was underlined when the board gave her responsibility for Global Solutions, the Shell unit that transfers innovations within the group, said a manager, noting that the move came as the company increasingly focuses on technology.

But Briggs said Cook’s American “command and control” business style “is inimical to the traditional Shell culture of think global, act local.”

Voser’s position was boosted by cost-cutting efforts that didn’t spare his own department, say people familiar with the company. But his lack of day-to-day experience managing the assets weakens his chances, say current and former employees.

And the last accountant to run Shell, Cor Herkstroter, departed in 1998 with mixed reviews after five years on the job. He cut costs and bureaucracy, but he departed amid criticism that he mishandled public relations over the decommissioning of the Brent Spar platform in the North Sea. Company employees say Shell later paid the price for Herkstroter’s cost cutting by having to rehire expensively.

“The last thing that Shell needs now is a CEO who makes decisions based on balance sheets and profit and loss accounts,” said Briggs.

But a Shell employee said Voser is increasingly seeming like “a man of strategy. He is not just a man of numbers.”

Voser’s two-year departure to Asea Brown Boveri Group also makes him what one top Shell manager called an “outsider.” The same person said it also makes Voser the only contender absent during the restatement of reserves that dragged shares lower in early 2004.

Voser may have returned in the aftermath of that period thinking that the top job was within his reach, said one of his colleagues.

Company Web site:

-By Benoit Faucon, Dow Jones Newswires; +44-20-7842-9266; benoit.faucon@

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