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Shell’s CEO Attempts a Heart-to-Heart, but Is Anyone Buying It?

Posted by John Donovan 5 October 2023

In an astonishing move to show he’s “in touch” with the times, Shell Plc’s Chief Emotional Officer, Wael Sawan, plans a virtual pow-wow to soothe the jittery nerves of his eco-anxious troops. You know, those rightfully concerned about the planet’s future and all.

Remember when Sawan became the darling of environmentalists everywhere by – wait for it – prioritizing shareholder returns and reigniting Shell’s love affair with oil and gas? No? Oh, right, because that didn’t happen. What he did instead was ruffle the feathers of a number of employees, particularly the free thinkers over in the Renewables and Energy Solutions division.

Our dear CEO has kindly invited the Shell family to a little digital tea party titled “A Conversation With Wael” this October 17. The purpose? To “deepen our conversation on the opportunities and dilemmas we face as we position Shell to win in the energy transition,” an invitation bragged. The translation: “Let’s chat about why we’re clinging to our old ways, even though the house is literally on fire.”

Ahead of this riveting rendezvous, employees took to an internal forum. One heroic individual shared their struggle, stating the company’s customer-led approach makes bedtime stories with the kids a tad challenging: “It’s difficult for me to justify to my kids,” they said. Another keen observer noted that recent asset sales had Shell looking less “futuristic” and more “back in my day.”

Of course, some posted their support for Sawan’s June revelations, because what’s a debate without both sides?

Acknowledging the fervent internal discourse, a Shell spokesperson managed to hold back tears long enough to say, “We appreciate that our staff are engaged in and have passion for both the energy transition and Shell,” adding they “welcome an open dialogue.”

Our protagonist, Sawan, believes Shell needs a “fundamental culture shift” to convince investors they’re still cool. His strategy? A “ruthless” focus on capital allocation and diving into low-carbon operations only if there’s a pot of gold at the end.

“We need to be able to cover our cost of capital and make a return for our shareholders,” Sawan valiantly declared at a recent conference. Because if we’ve learned anything, it’s that shareholder returns and the fate of our planet are, naturally, two sides of the same coin.

Shell’s spokesperson chimed in with a gentle reminder that Shell’s “net zero by 2050” promise is still on the table. But, hey, it’s all about “performance, discipline, and simplification.”

Surprisingly, some investors are swooning over Sawan’s moves, pushing Shell into the limelight this year. Activist investor Dan Loeb even serenaded the company, praising its “unwavering commitment to shareholder value, capital discipline, and improved returns.” Oh, sweet melodies!

Yet, in the midst of this symphony, a minor key was struck. An open letter from two brave souls from the company’s low-carbon division aired some dirty laundry about the company potentially backpedaling on its “leading the energy transition” pledge.

But don’t worry, Sawan assures there won’t be a mass exodus, except for the small matter of a recent significant asset sale. And, as we all patiently await the next chapter in this captivating saga, remember: In Shell’s world, it’s always sunny… even when it’s pouring.

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