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Reuters: High-flyer Boynton loses grip at Shell




By Janet McBride


LONDON, April 19 (Reuters) - Judith Boynton's dramatic fall at Royal Dutch/Shell was even swifter than her rise to become the first woman on the main executive board of the world's third-biggest oil firm.


Finance Director Boynton was ousted on Monday, the third high-profile casualty since Shell's shock decision to slash its estimated oil and gas reserves. Chairman Phil Watts and oil and gas chief Walter van de Vijver were pushed out in March.


In a statement, Shell thanked Boynton for her service to the Anglo-Dutch company. A source close to the matter said the board had asked Boynton to leave after revelations this year that the company's oil and gas reserves had been massively overstated.


London share traders said her situation had become untenable and her departure was no surprise.


When Boynton was appointed to the board a year ago, barely two years after moving to Shell, some insiders tipped her as a future chairman. The 49-year-old American joined the Anglo-Dutch group as finance director in 2001 from camera-maker Polaroid.


A 2002 management survey put Boynton 10th in a list of the most powerful women in Britain, behind Marjorie Scardino, chief executive officer of publisher Pearson, and Cherie Booth, barrister and wife of Prime Minister Tony Blair.  


Her rise through the ranks appeared irresistible.


A rare outsider in the top echelons of Shell, Boynton was the only U.S. citizen to sit at the top executive table of an oil giant with roots stretching back 170 years to a London shop selling sea shells to Victorian collectors.


A mathematician and an economist by training, Boynton was also an old oil industry hand. She spent 20 years with U.S. oil firm Amoco until its was taken over by Britain's BP in 1998.


Boynton's brief tenure at Shell was not without controversy, however, even before the reserves debacle that shook the industry and undermined confidence in the company's board.


Along with then Chairman Watts, Boynton came in for criticism from investors in 2001, when Shell was forced to revise downwards its growth targets for oil and gas output.


Some analysts said she came across as a poor communicator.


In a newspaper interview soon after she joined Shell, Boynton said working in the oil industry as a woman had been something of a novelty back in 1978. On Monday, her Shell career came to an end and the novelty looked to have worn thin.


Copyright 2004, Reuters News Service 

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