The Times: Henry the second
By Sally Patten, Deputy Business News Editor
April 08, 2004
Shell's head of investor relations, once noted for not being someone else, has been given the chance to become famous for being himself. Some people gain fame for who they are. Others win prominence for who they are not.
In politics, for instance, Iain Duncan Smith's victory in the 2001 Conservative leadership campaign was gained largely through the support of members chanting "ABC": Anyone But Clarke (Poor Ken).
In business, Simon Henry, briefly became one of the best known figures in Anglo-Dutch corporate life in January for not being Sir Philip Watts, the then chairman of Shell.
For when the time came for the oil giant to own up to over-estimating the value of its "proven" reserves by some 25 per cent, it was Mr Henry, the company's head of investor relations, not Sir Philip, who faced the discord at an investors' briefing.
The deployment of the 42-year-old spin doctor instead of Shell's chief surgeon to announce unprecedented cuts only added to City anger over the announcement. While Mr Henry declined to reveal his boss's whereabouts, Sir Philip later said he had missed the meeting because, in a closed period ahead of a results statement, he would have been unable to offer any valuable insight into the reserves adjustment.
It was an excuse which failed to save his position – Sir Philip was ousted last month – and in so doing also exposed failures in the accuracy of Mr Henry's statements, too. Mr Henry had told analysts said that no managers responsible for Shell's overbookings would by disciplined. "It is inherently a question of judgement and at the time of the original bookings the definition of reasonable certainty was correctly interpreted," he said. "They acted in good faith and exercised their best judgment."
It was, in fact, not just Sir Philip, a former head of Shell's exploration unit, who lost his job over the revision but his divisional successor, Walter van de Vijver, too.
This morning it emerged that another senior member of the unit, Frank Coopman, its chief financial officer, was being replaced after less than two years in the post. Mr Coopman and the company are in discussion over a "mutually acceptable alternative", Shell said.
They added that he had been succeeded by none other than Mr Henry.
The man once famous as reserve for a missing chief will now become a chief at a unit famous for its missing reserves.
Analysts may ask what qualities Mr Henry has for the role.
His 21 years at Shell have not all been spent in the investor relations department. He was, for instance, head of the company's retail business in Asia Pacific and Shell, like many other corporate leviathans, operates a policy of broadening workers' experience.
Nonetheless, investors shaken by Shell's recent turmoils, which have included a second reserves writedown, may justifiably have sought a candidate with purer finance experience as chief financial officer at such a sensitive division. The revisions, after all, are an accounting matter.
For Mr Henry, however, the job is a dream. He can hardly help lead the division into worse trouble and leaves behind a role which must be one of the least enviable in world business.