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Former Shell Exec Paddy Briggs comments on the article: The Pearls of Shell

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The Times: “The Pearls of Shell”

April 16, 2008
Dominic Walsh: City Diary

A colleague visiting Shell’s group head office in The Hague the other day picked up a booklet in the foyer entitled Shell Group Headquarters House Rules. On the inside front page is a section called “The Pearls of Shell”, which says: “The people employed at Shell are the pearls of our company. They impart lustre to our business and deliver first-class performance, day in day out. That is why it is vital to cherish their wellbeing, health and safety.” There is more guff about “treating one another with respect” but by now you have doubtless already reached for the sick bucket.

PADDYS COMMENT: April 17th, 2008 05:36

The Pearls of Shell

Who writes this guff? Employees over the past decade or so have been treated as disposable commodities that are bought or sold as the whims of management diktat. If a senior honcho need to demonstrate his (and increasingly her) machismo then staff are disposed of with the minimum of human concern and as quickly as possible (e.g. the IT lot at present). If the business somewhere gets in trouble then the cookie jar is taken out of the drawer and hirings are made to plug short term operational problems. Professionals from anywhere are hired in on a money no object basis when the going gets tough (e.g. Sakhalin at present where the earnings for qualified contractors are enormous – $1000 a day for an HSE expert for example and with annual contracts). Where in the past there was a career structure in place now there is an ever stronger preference for hiring contractors across the board. Where in the past key businesses like Retail marketing were handled by in house and experienced employees now key jobs are contracted out to the least cost operator. And businesses are disposed of whimsically and their employees given the boot without fear or favour.

Where in the past there was a proper remuneration structure in place based on the principle of payment in return for the difficulty/impact of the job (measured by proper Job Evaluation) now it is a free for all and, at the very top, the high priced help grants itself obscenely high rewards just because they can.

And the culture, which once was collegiate and sympathetic, is now competitive and selfish all too often. The satisfactions attached to running your own show in your own country have gone and key decisions in respect of a particular country or region are increasingly taken centrally by people remote from the business.

Employee benefits used to build synergy and cooperation (e.g. sports and social clubs) but these “distractions” have mostly gone and when they do remain (e.g. the “Lensbury Club”) they are regarded as opportunities to make money rather than to reward staff.

I could go on and no doubt I will!


Paddy worked for Shell for 37 years during the last fifteen of which he was responsible for Brand management in a number of appointments. He was the winner of the “Shell/Economist” writing prize (internal) in 2001. Paddy retired from Shell in 2002 to form the brand consultancy BrandAware and to write and speak on brand and reputation matters.

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One Comment

  1. Goblok says:

    Paddy my dear friend – did you not read that Shell hired 5000 new technical professionals last year in the core disciplines related to More Upstream and Profitable Downstream? The previous year another 4000 and the year before that several thousand.

    Hardly sounds like outsourcing to me.

    But it is true that contractors are being used to fill critical vacancies – this is an industry trend related to the “crew change” which is hitting all the Majors and their Contractors. Fishing in an ever diminishing pool so to speak

    The hard fact Paddy is that out sourcing non core skills like Bread Butter IT and Transactional Finance functions is reality for every major company. It is not core business!!!!!

    I might add that profitable Downstream means that Shell exits Markets where they are not 1st or 2nd

    A business not a charity and hopefully a responsible one most of the time. Is everyone in Shell decent and ethical – for the most part yes I am sure like most other MultiNationals – it mirrors the society in which employees work and live. Are there still a few “bastards” in the organisation who are egotistical and selfish … probably yes … but then thats life and you will find the same in every company and every part of Civil Society

    So lets get real please … remember Paddy better not bitter mate!


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