The Guardian: Shell's boss promises a shake-up
Saturday March 6, 2004
Jeroen van der Veer, the new chairman of Shell, yesterday promised to shake up the culture of the group, admitting that the sacking of his predecessor, Sir Philip Watts, and the events running up his dismissal had dented the group's image and been a "real shock" to staff.
But he failed to lift the cloud hanging over the world's second largest stock-listed oil group, with analysts complaining they were disappointed by his first presentation and saying it left open many questions. The shares fell nearly 2%. Mr van der Veer pointedly refused to say whether Sir Philip and his right-hand man, Walter van de Vijver, had done anything illegal or were guilty of misconduct in his first briefing since taking over on Wednesday.
He said there had been a "loss of confidence" by the board in both men but argued that it would be wrong to speculate on exactly what happened until an internal investigation was complete.
The Shell boss revealed the world's second largest listed oil group was facing questions from Euronext, which runs the Amsterdam stock exchange, and was still in talks with the US securities and exchange commission. There was no talk of legal action from the American regulator so far.
Fadel Gheit, an oil analyst with Fahnestock & Co brokerage in New York, said he was "not satisfied at all" by Mr van der Veer's first outing. "I think he was trying his best to reassure investors but it backfired," he said. "It opened more questions than it answered."
Mr van der Veer dismissed worries about the independence of the audit committee of non-executive directors which is investigating the issue that led to the initial upheaval, the announcement on January 9 that Shell would downgrade its proven reserves by 20%.
The new Shell boss was determined to "drill down" to the very bottom of the reserves issue and said the result of the audit committee report would be handed over to the SEC and then made public.
Three priorities had been set in the short term: getting the reserves issue behind him, keeping a strong eye on the continuing business and the "most difficult" - reviewing the culture and structure of the group.