Royal Dutch Shell Group .com

Financial Times: Shell lost confidence in Watts, says new chairman


By Carola Hoyos, Clay Harris and Sundeep Tucker in London


Jeroen van der Veer, Royal Dutch/Shell's new chairman, said yesterday that a loss of confidence in Sir Philip Watts, his predecessor, and another director had led to their resignations from the Anglo-Dutch oil and gas group.


Sir Philip and Walter van de Vijver, the head of Shell's exploration and production division, were forced out on Wednesday after the group's audit committee gave a preliminary report on the company's surprise announcement in January that it was cutting its proved oil and gas reserves by 20 per cent.


"There was a loss in confidence in the leadership of the two directors, and then they resigned," Mr van der Veer said.


He declined to discuss whether any evidence of illegality had been uncovered. "These investigations have not finished, so I'm not going to speculate on that. I'm not aware of all the precise facts," he said.


Proposals on whether to alter the company's dual structure and on other governance changes are to be ready by next year when companies are expected to report how they have complied with a new Dutch corporate governance code that took effect this year.


Jon Rigby, an analyst at Commerzbank, said: "It's a longer time than a lot of people were hoping for. It is making it quite difficult to see Shell as a recovery play."


Some of Shell's biggest shareholders had previously insisted that preliminary decisions about the company's structure and board selection needed to be announced at next month's annual meeting.


But William Claxton-Smith of Insight said: "If they can change quickly, fine. But we don't necessarily expect to see significant changes in the next 12 months."


Pressure for Royal Dutch/Shell to unify its board increased last month when Unilever, the Anglo-Dutch consumer goods group of which Mr van de Veer is an advisory director, indicated it would make that step.

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