The Daily Telegraph: South Bank show needs makeover
Edited by Neil Collins (Filed: 23/03/2004)
"This presentation contains forward-looking statements that are subject to risk factors associated with the oil, gas, power, chemicals and renewables businesses."
Well, this column also contains some forward-looking statements subject to risk associated with listening to opinion and argument, but do you really need a disclaimer with every day's issue to know that?
Just when you think it can't get worse at Shell, it does. In between dribbling out little gloops of bad news, the company appears to be in such a state that it dare not risk the sort of communication with the outside world that others have practised for years.
The Shell disclaimer (it goes on for a further 12 lines) was the attention-grabbing opening slide of its 2004 results presentation last month. Sir Philip Watts (still chairman then) even pointed out how it differed from previous shows. Kiddies, everyone keep still and quiet while even the slowest of you have had time to read it.
These days, every business takes expensive legal advice about how to protect itself from other lawyers, but Shell is the only British company that insists on trying to make the reporters read about it. Mind you, not so long ago, it might have been the most interesting slide in the show, positive proof that in a changing world, you could be sure of Shell.
For a business in crisis, it looks fatuous. It reveals the company's obsession with process and legalese, and gives ammunition to the growing clamour for radical change in the way it is run.
Yesterday, following a rare meeting between the senior surviving Shell directors and their largest investors, the best the company could manage was that there had been constructive talks, for all the world like a United Nations summit communique.
Next month, Shell's audit committee publishes its report into its oil reserves, which should allow publication of the delayed annual report and the (even more delayed) annual meetings.
Neither will be much fun for those running the show on the South Bank but no amount of legal advice will save the Royal Dutch/Shell group from the need for a modern board structure, and a recognition that perestroika is no more an optional extra than it was for the Soviet Union.