Financial Times: Shell goes for the ultimate in transparency
By Clay Harris in London
Posted 29 May 04
Royal Dutch/Shell's new emphasis on transparency begins on the cover of its 2003 annual report, finally published on Friday after a two-month delay because of the group's reserves cuts and management upheaval.
For Shell Transport and Trading, the UK arm of the Anglo-Dutch oil and gas group, this year's featured shell is the Rhysota, which one can see right through. Unfortunately, its spiral looks remarkably like liquid going down a plughole.
Shell has the knack of sending unintended messages. In 2002, the cover pictured an abalone - shiny mother-of-pearl on the surface, but riddled with holes.
The 2003 report - which contains little information that had not been dripped out over recent months, including a final update on Monday - shows a new tone in another way.
Last year, Sir Philip Watts - ousted as chairman in March - was the Page 1 boy, with a quarter-page photograph. His Shell Transport successors, Lord Oxburgh and Malcolm Brinded, content themselves with postage stamp images on pages 2 and 3.
In the Royal Dutch report, Jeroen van der Veer, chairman of the committee of managing directors, has a larger picture, but is shown holding a hard hat. It was that sort of year.
Not everything has shrunk in size along with reserves. Although they received no bonus for 2003, Shell Transport directors saw their aggregate base salaries and benefits rise by 42 per cent to £2.44m. And shareholders cannot complain they are being short-changed on information. At 124 pages, the 2003 report is more than 50 per cent bigger than the 80-page 2002 edition.