Daily Telegraph: Peer who hopes to clear up the spill
By James Moore (Filed: 24/04/2004)
"I have seen from the inside how many companies work. I can tell you that this company has enormous numbers of first-class people working to professional and ethical standards that match, and in many cases surpass, others in the industry."
Thus Lord Oxburgh of Liverpool, launching another grim Shell press conference, before moving on to the horrors of the first external report into the company's Polyanna approach to adding up its oil reserves.
Oxburgh is the man charged with clearing up the worst financial spill in Shell's long history. He is a somewhat surprising choice for the job. An eminent geologist, he joined Shell's board as a director in March 1996, rising to become the senior non-executive.
In the world of academe, he has rarely had to put up with the type of pasting he and his company have been receiving in recent months.
The Geological Society of London positively gushes about his performance at the opening of the British Association for the Advancement of Science's Millennial event.
The society called its then president "the Great Exhibitionist" after he compared the bash, entitled "Creative Sparks", to the Great Exhibition of 1851.
Lord Oxburgh was educated at Liverpool Institute, University College, Oxford and Princeton University.
He has lectured at Oxford and Cambridge and was rector of the Imperial College of Science, Technology and Medicine for eight years until 2001. Lord Oxburgh has also acted as chief scientific adviser to the Ministry of Defence.
Geology had taken him to Antarctica immediately after the company's first reserve downgrade in January, so he was on the other side of the world when the seismic shock, followed by the outraged aftershock from institutional investors, hit.
It did not take long for the tremors to reach him and when Sir Philip Watts was fired, he was hurridly appointed to the new position of non-executive interim chairman of the group's UK board.
He was enobled in 1999 and sits as a crossbench peer. He is also chairman of the Lords' science and technology select committee.
Lord Oxburgh will be 70 next year and is due to retire by the time of Shell's next annual meeting due, all being well, next April.