The Times: Shell faces pressure to shed more executives
By Elizabeth Judge
March 22, 2004
ROYAL DUTCH/SHELL, the troubled multinational oil group, will face calls for further high-level resignations today during a crunch meeting with institutional investors.
The meeting, at the London headquarters of the Association of British Insurers (ABI), comes after more damaging developments about the Anglo-Dutch oil and gas company over the weekend.
Yesterday Shell was forced to deny reports that KPMG, its joint auditor, refused to sign off its accounts because of concerns about the quality of information received.
Fund managers who will attend today’s meeting said that the delay in publishing the accounts — highly unusual for a company of Shell’s size — adds to pressure on the group to remove executives found to be implicated in its misreporting of reserves.
Sir Philip Watts, Shell’s executive chairman, has already been ousted as investor anger increased over the company’s revelations that it had wrongly accounted for its oil reserves.
Speculation on who might be ousted next has centred on Jeroen van der Veer, chairman of Shell’s committee of managing directors, and Judy Boynton, chief financial officer. Mr Van der Veer denied that he knew of the misbooking.
Shell said that claims that KPMG did not sign off the accounts, due out last Friday, were untrue. It said that the accounts were not given to the auditor because the company first needed to clarify information about reserves.
“The decision was made by the board not to publish the accounts pending much greater clarity on the reserves,” a spokesman said. KPMG declined to comment, referring all questions to Shell.
Robert Talbut, of Isis Asset Management, said yesterday: “It is too premature to name names, but it is clear that once the audit report is completed it will be essential that no one who is implicated or tainted by this will be able to stay.
“The failure (to produce the accounts) is not enhancing the reputation of the company.”
Peter Montagnon, of the ABI, said that its members were “extremely concerned”.
Shareholders at today’s meeting — to be overseen by Lord Oxburgh, the interim non- executive chairman of Shell — will demand an explanation of the postponing of the publication of the company’s results.
They are also expected to emphasise the urgency for new blood in Shell. They want headhunters to seek a long-term non-executive chairman to replace Lord Oxburgh.
The agenda will also include calls for structural changes in the company. Critics say that the boardroom structure in the group — which involves three boards — is too complicated and that clearer lines of reporting and accountability to shareholders are needed.
Problems in the group, a pillar of the corporate establishment, began in January when it shocked the City by declaring that booked oil reserves would have to be cut by 20 per cent. Last week it announced a second major writedown of its proven oil and gas reserves.