The Guardian: The oilman cometh, with low-key approach
Thursday March 4, 2004
The non-descript, bespectacled man in the mac, pushing through the crowds on a grey, Icelandic day, did not look like one of the world's most powerful oilmen.
Yet when Jeroen van der Veer stepped up to the podium to launch a revolutionary hydrogen project in Reykjavik he came alive, showing he is articulate and intelligent if not exactly charismatic.
Mr Van der Veer is taking on a job with a high profile which will test his determinedly low-key approach. He succeeds Sir Philip as chairman of the committee of managing directors at Royal Dutch/Shell, an oil group in crisis.
It will be up to the Dutchman to rebuild confidence at a time when questions remain over how and why it "lost" 20% of its proven reserves.
Mr Van der Veer is 56 and, like his predecessor, pretty much a Shell lifer, having joined in 1971 as a refinery designer. Since then he has worked all over the company and the globe, including Britain as well as the US, Holland and the Caribbean island of Curacao.
He is on the supervisory board of the De Nederlandsche Bank and is an advisory director to another Anglo-Dutch firm, Unilever, which has successfully abandoned the dual company structure that is under fire at Shell.
He is a trained economist and engineer, steeped in the collegiate culture of Shell. More than anything he is seen as the proverbial safe pair of hands.
But whether he is the man who will have the vision to transform the whole structure of the group, as many shareholders want, remains to be seen. Certainly this enthusiastic golfer with a handicap of 16 will find very little chance to improve his putting before he eventually steps aside for new blood.