Royal Dutch Shell Group .com Dice are still spinning after Shell shake-up


By Carola Hoyos, Joanna Chung and Gordon Cramb in London

Published: March 4 2004


The surprise management reshuffle at Royal Dutch/Shell, the embattled Anglo-Dutch energy group, produced two clear winners and one less obvious one.


The relatively unknown Jeroen van der Veer stepped into the top spot vacated by Sir Philip Watts, who was ousted just two months after one the biggest debacles of Shell's century-long history.


Malcolm Brinded, the company's head of gas and power, moved to fill the slot left open by the departure of Walter van de Vijver, the former head of exploration and production, arguably Shell's most important division.


Mr Brinded will serve as head of both divisions until Shell can find a replacement. Investors are speculating that the company may have to look outside to fill some of its top ranks.


On Wednesday, with the resignations of Sir Philip and Mr van de Vijver, Shell's committee of managing directors shrank from six to four.


Who would be the best man to bring in? Shell's advisers - from bankers to consultants - view Frank Chapman, chief executive of BG, the UK gas distributor, as the best possible candidate. But he already has a job that appears far more fun than helping Shell, his old employer, to get back on its feet.


The big question would be whether Shell could convince him to jump ship. "He would have to be promised the top job," said one of Shell's advisers. But that would not open until 2008 when Mr van der Veer hits the company's mandatory retirement age.


In a lifetime career at Royal Dutch/Shell, Mr van der Veer had not addressed the press until three-and-a-half years ago. This week, on his unexpected accession to Shell's top job, he did not immediately make himself available for interview.


But over lunch at its headquarters in The Hague in September 2000, he tested the waters by offering a series of observations that reflected his goal-setting.


Defining Shell, Mr van der Veer said at the time: "I call it an energy and petrochemicals company" and, with a nod to the environmental movement, he stressed its interest in renewable energy forms.


On its portfolio of activities, he also said then: "We want to become bigger at exploration and production and in the gas side of the business."


Taking issue with those who demanded radical changes of direction by Shell, he asked: "What could I do differently from my predecessor? If I listed 10 points of comparison, you could say they are all the same. Shell has a lot of teamwork at the top." But that was before he got the top job. At this point investors are looking for Mr van der Veer's tenure to be anything but similar to that of Sir Philip Watts.

Click here to return to Royal Dutch Shell Group .com