The Times: Dutchman takes poisoned chalice
March 04, 2004
By Carl Mortished
IF THERE were ever a poisoned chalice, it must be the chairmanship of Shell.
Jeroen van der Veer, the bespectacled Dutchman who yesterday moved up to the head of the top table, is lumbered with an internal management crisis, a shareholder revolt and an investigation by the US Securities and Exchange Commission into suspected misrepresentation of the company’s reserves.
And after he deals with all of that, there is the knotty problem of how to quickly find more oil and gas to fill up Shell’s tank. The recategorisation of reserves, which precipitated the SEC inquiry and ultimately led to the removal of Sir Philip Watts and Walter van de Vijver, revealed a real problem in the Anglo-Dutch company.
Shell has not found much oil and gas in recent years. The reserve additions that were deleted in such dramatic fashion in January were not new discoveries but gas reserves found years ago that were yet to find a buyer and a project to bring them out of the ground. Under pressure to show the world that it was replacing what it produced, Shell pushed the envelope and paid for it dearly.
Like Sir Phil, the 57-year-old Dutchman is a Shell lifer. He has been running its chemicals business, itself a can of worms. But Mr van der Veer now has a much bigger challenge — pleasing shareholders.