Los Angeles Times: For Shell Executive, It's All About Meeting Targets: “Cook is also one of the five executive directors of a business that has been through two years of turmoil, after the huge overstatement of its oil and gas reserves that led to the removal of Chairman Philip Watts and two other directors, fines of about $150 million and a corporate governance overhaul.”: Her elevation to the board came as a result of the scandal and management shake-up, bringing her back to headquarters in The Hague, Netherlands": Monday 28 November 2005
November 28, 2005
GLOBAL REPORT / FINANCIAL TIMES
Linda Cook's exacting management style has served her well during her rise. Restoring the group's reputation and morale is a top priority.
By Alison Maitland, Financial Times
LONDON — Linda Cook, executive director of gas and power at Royal Dutch Shell and one of the most senior women in the international energy industry, set several conditions before our interview. She does not want any "posed" photographs. She would rather not discuss her Catholic faith. And she can spare no more than 45 minutes.
The American-born, 47-year-old petroleum engineer is not one to seek, or to offer others, a relaxed or easy ride.
"What would people say about me? That I'm impatient; that I set high expectations; that when you set a target or say something will be done by a certain time, I expect that that's what happens," she says.
What happens if people do not meet their targets? "It depends on whether it's important or not," she replies. "If it's important, we all pitch in. We don't let ourselves fail or let time be our enemy."
Time management has always been important to her. When she last ran the gas and power business a few years ago, before a stint as chief executive of Shell Canada, she introduced a beeper to keep team meetings on time. "I threatened to bring it back, but they've been trained," she says with a laugh.
Does her exacting style intimidate people? "No, I don't think I've ever been thought of as scary. Usually people are right there with me."
Cook is also one of the five executive directors of a business that has been through two years of turmoil, after the huge overstatement of its oil and gas reserves that led to the removal of Chairman Philip Watts and two other directors, fines of about $150 million and a corporate governance overhaul.
Restoring morale and rebuilding the group's shattered reputation are top priorities. Earlier this year, an internal survey found that fewer than half the 112,000 employees thought the company was well led. But are those executives who belonged to the previous senior team tainted by association?
"It's something that we can't worry about," Cook says briskly. "Worrying about reputation or morale isn't going to change it. What's going to change it is that we have our heads down, that we're delivering against the targets we set for ourselves and that we're laying out a clear and strong strategy for the future."
She says the troubles are now largely behind them. "As directors, we do town hall meetings in the big Shell locations, and the questions we get from staff now are much more about the present and future and much less about difficulties in the past."
But the group faces another major headache: delays and cost overruns at some of its biggest projects, including Sakhalin-2, its flagship Russian project. With hindsight, it is clear that Shell underestimated the enormous challenges involved in Sakhalin, she says.
Her elevation to the board came as a result of the scandal and management shake-up, bringing her back to headquarters in The Hague, Netherlands, only a year after she and her family had moved to Canada. She liked and respected Watts and was devastated by what happened. "No one can work for a company for that long … and not feel that personally."
Petroleum has been part of Cook's life since she spent a summer as a teenager working at the filling station attached to the family dairy business in Kansas. The second child in a family of six, and one of five girls, she was never told there were jobs she could not do.
All that changed when she graduated from the University of Kansas with a degree in petroleum engineering and entered "the real world." As a rookie Shell engineer, she found her approach to a rig in Michigan blocked by a foreman who had parked his truck across the road. Women were not allowed in, he told her.
Ambitious and competitive, she was not one to be put off: "The more someone might have implied that there was something I couldn't do, the more I wanted to do it." She spent the next 18 years in exploration and production with Shell before moving to the commercial side.
At this point in our interview, she signals that we have five minutes left, so I ask how she progressed in a largely male world. It was not a matter of being the same as the men, she says. "I didn't go out golfing with them after work. I had my own life and a husband and pregnancies and kids.
"Was I better than them? That's hard to say. I did a good job, and I set targets and delivered against my own goals and got along well with people."
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