FINANCIAL TIMES: Unishell: “Why is it that these Anglo-Dutch giants, operating in very different businesses, have stumbled at just the same time?”: “…maybe the simultaneous upsets at Shell and Unilever are just coincidence. But the coincidence is still pretty remarkable.” (ShellNews.net) 14 Feb 05
By John Plender
Published: February 14 2005
For the best part of a century, Unilever and Royal Dutch/Shell demonstrated a remarkable aptitude for corporate renewal, despite being immune from the threat of hostile takeover and other capital market pressures. Why is it that these Anglo-Dutch giants, operating in very different businesses, have stumbled at just the same time?
It is tempting to hazard a guess that their consensual styles of management and corporate governance, with a degree of creative friction between the British and Dutch, are less well suited to periods of turbulent change than the much rougher Anglo model of governance. The same point is frequently made of countries, with Germany being cited as a prime example of the inability to promote radical micro-economic reform in the face of powerful vested interests. The trouble with the argument is that there are smaller countries in continental Europe with similarly consensual democracies that continue to show strong economic growth. Whether we are talking of countries or companies, it is hard to make these big generalisations stick. So maybe the simultaneous upsets at Shell and Unilever are just coincidence. But the coincidence is still pretty remarkable. I suspect the consensual style has hampered the ability of these giant bureaucracies to adapt when the rest of the world has been moving on. The discipline of product markets means that change does come in the end but very painfully.