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Shell’s Ben van Beurden: Oil vs Uber in the battle of reputations

In a throwaway comment, Ben van Beurden found himself front and centre on the national media’s radar. “It wasn’t a planned remark, it just came out,” he said.

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But it wasn’t oil price, or strategy that landed him prime time interviews.

Instead, it was the comment that his next car would be electric.

“It wasn’t a planned remark, it just came out,” he said.

“But it shows how charismatic renewables and electricity is at the moment, much more charismatic than gas and definitely much more charismatic than oil.”

A perception that oil and gas have a shrinking role to play is one the industry needs to address head-on.

“If you really want to be charismatic about what needs to happen in a big way you would focus on gas,” he said.

And that includes an education around renewables.

“Renewables will grow. In terms of percentage of growth it will be probably the fastest growing primary energy source, but from a very low base,” he said.

“And of course a lot of people also have difficulties distin-guishing between energy and electricity so when everybody says, ‘we can get to 100% renew-able energy’, what they really mean is we can get to 100% re-newable electricity and, of course, electricity is only 20% of energy demand.

“So all these sorts of trivial details are lost.”

Half of the battle is a reputational one, especially as the industry looks to recruit a younger, more carbon conscious workforce.

“We need to reposition as an industry of continued relevance, but also as an industry that is a force for good in society.

“At the moment, a force for good in society in the minds of young people is Uber and Airbnb,” he said.

“These are the companies that are really transforming peoples’ lives. Really?

“Think of what the energy industry has done in terms of bringing higher life expectancy, better quality of life in general and accommodating the number of people on this planet.

“All of that would not have been possible without energy.

“It was possible without Uber and others, by the way.

“But I think the appreciation for that is now secondary.

“I think we are being seen as an industry that is not as relevant anymore as some of these more charismatic industries.

“And we have to address that, because the facts are different. But it doesn’t really matter if the perceptions do not catch up with the facts.”

That includes repositioning the company as one “that is firmly entrenched in being successful in the energy transition”.

Mr van Beurden added: “So we are not a dinosaur company that just sticks with its knitting, because there is a lot of knitting yet to be done.

“We are a company that wants to be good at its knitting, but also wants to figure out what new games in the play book are.

“But more fundamentally we just have to show the value of what we bring.

“The good that we can do through our investments, through our societal contribution, through the way we employ people, the standards that we have set and the institutions that we develop.

“And a lot of this is just making what we are already doing more visible.”

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