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Not much time for Shell to lick BP inflicted wounds

Times Online

The Times

January 14, 2010

Business big shot: Simon Henry, of Royal Dutch Shell

Emma Keens

After being knocked off the top spot as Europe’s largest oil and gas producer by market capitalisation this week, Shell executives did not get much time to lick their wounds.

The Anglo-Dutch company’s shares continued their slide yesterday amid talk that it had been guiding analysts to reduce their fourth-quarter earnings forecasts by about 20 per cent. A handful of downgrades served only to fuel that fire.

One man feeling the pain more than most will be Simon Henry (right), Royal Dutch Shell group’s chief financial officer, whose first year in the role has been anything but smooth, with falling demand continuing to pummel the oil industry.

Mr Henry, a Shell lifer, succeeded Peter Voser, now chief executive, last March, just after Shell had reported the biggest annual profit in UK corporate history of £22 billion, despite also registering its first quarterly loss in more than a decade. Profits have since fallen and, in October 2008, Mr Henry and Mr Voser said that Shell was cutting 5,000 jobs after quarterly net profit dropped by 73 per cent to $2.99 billion (£1.85 billion).

Mr Henry said at the time that he could see no significant upturn in demand in the near term, saying: “Oil stocks are well above historical levels and therefore there is quite a stock overhang.”

Yesterday’s notes from respected Merrill Lynch and RBS analysts appeared to herald more of the same for the fourth quarter.

People in the City will not envy Mr Henry the job of explaining all this to the shareholders, but perhaps one of his strengths lies in his experience of handling Shell’s more controversial announcements. It was Mr Henry, then Shell’s head of investor relations, who was thrust on to centre stage in 2004 to admit that Shell had overestimated the value of its “proven” resources by 25 per cent.

Sir Philip Watts, chairman at the time. dodged the job of placating the City, but he and two other senior executives lost their jobs soon after the debacle, leaving room for Mr Henry to step up as chief financial officer of exploration and production.

Mr Henry joined Shell as an engineer in 1982 after graduating in maths from Cambridge. But he soon switched to accounting and qualified as a member of the Chartered Institute of Management Accountants in 1989. He has held a number of roles within Shell, including oil products shareholder finance adviser for Asia-Pacific and finance director for the Mekong Cluster.

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