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January 12th, 2006:

The latest embarrassment to Shell

By a Shell Insider (name and address supplied)

Hello Alfred,

I would appreciate if you could place this story on your site. I could not contain myself any longer and look forward to the time I will retire.

Just imagine, several pension funds are suing your company. This is in a different league than some American shysters who want to make a quick buck in a country where it pays to sue. Spill some hot coffee while gobbling down a burger and you can claim a large sum of money. But these are decent companies with long term focus that look after the investment of old people, widows and orphans. It is these people that have put their trust in companies like Shell and have now been let down.
And the comment from Shell? ‘We will fight these charges with vigour’. There is no doubt at all in my mind that it will make a lot of lawyers rich and in the end there will be a generous settlement, because Shell does not know what to do with their money anyhow. The cashflows have become so large only because of the high oil price, the quality of the business is actually very poor (Sakhalin, Bonga, Kashagan, Pearl, Sorush & Noruz, Mukhaizna, etc etc). Occasionally there even is a good project. Had the oil price remained around 20$, Shell would most likely not exist anymore and some (ex-)directors would be in jail. Now it is a cashcow to be milked.
But what disturbs me most as an employee of this once great company is that the self appointed ‘leaders’ are not ‘walking the talk’ as they want everyone else to do and preach the latest gospel ‘enterprise first’ and ‘more upstream and better downstream’. They keep giving nice upbeat stories and using the shareholders money to keep themselves out of trouble. A settlement here, a settlement there, a fine here, a fine there. But no consequences for the responsible managers. Always someone else to blame or a little guy at the coalface. The current top has been around in very senior positions for quite a while and is responsible for the mess with the reserves and very poor project management. How come nobody has been fired (or made redundant with a bag of cash)? Only messengers who bring bad news are removed. And with a smart workforce you only have to do this very few times to quench all dissent or criticism. But it festers below the surface, everyone is now mainly protecting his or her own turf and making sure you do nothing for which you maybe held accountable later. There is a complete reliance on processes. Just tick off the various steps and all is well. State bureaucracies of poorly governed countries are very similar.
The weak arguments on the various failed projects are disgusting. The workforce largely knows what has gone wrong and why it has gone wrong. With a good and honest quality structure, this could help improve things and avoid the same problems in the future. But if messengers get killed off time and again, there is no quality improvement and we all muddle along. Led by clever but spineless self appointed ‘leaders’.
Why do I not resign? I have been worn down and found a way to survive and get on with my own life. The reward is actually very good and I balance the need for the family and work. Resigning now would be very costly, uproot my family and cause great stress. And why would I walk away if the fat cats are staying put? But the heart is not in it anymore, and if asked to go work in a non desirable place, I will find excuses, well worded of course, why I would be delighted to go, but alas not for now. And so you end up with people in difficult areas that are not up to scratch and merely are there for the money. People who work in large corporations only for their love of money are the wrong people. You need people who get rewarded fairly and then put their heart in it because they are proud of their work and their company. That type of loyalty has completely disappeared. Maybe still around a bit with some youngsters who do not know any better, but no more around with people over 35!
Herkstroter started it all by stating ‘we don’t offer a career for life anymore’. He also said ‘we do not need petroleum engineers, we have Schlumberger’. Only a coincidence his son worked for Schlumberger. But we cannot blame it on Herkstroter alone (-the moment he retired, he did not know how fast to run away from the oil business and go back to his book-keeping friends-) but there was a whole succession of clever but naïve and/or greedy people who preached ‘we need change’ and they lost the grip on the transformation. These people are still largely around in the top of Shell and doing financially very well. So, I do not know where the buck stops anymore. The top has closed ranks, I suspect because they all know something bad of each other, and when one falls, there maybe a domino effect!
I had to get this long story off my chest, I am glad there is a forum where this can get published/discussed without being killed off. So I add a photograph of someone I find really evil and who was in my view instrumental for the current mess. I am not saying he is, I am only expressing my view. Hopefully some people smile for a second and some others get really mad. Freedom of speech is great, it should be encouraged within Shell too. read more

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