Photo: Illustration; Source: Shell

Shell executives quit over green transition disagreements

Several clean energy executives have left from oil major Shell over a disagreement on how far and fast the company should move towards greener energy.

According to an article by the Financial Times, the wave of resignations comes just weeks before Shell is set to announce its strategy for the energy transition. The company said in April that it would become a net-zero emissions energy business by ‘2050 or sooner‘.

Citing four people familiar with the matter, the media outlet claimed that some executives pushed for a more aggressive shift from oil but top management is opting to stick closer to the company’s current path.

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Head of Shell’s solar, storage, and onshore wind businesses Marc van Gerven, a member of the company’s distributed energy division Eric Bradley, and Katherine Dixon – a leader in its energy transition strategy team all left the company in recent weeks.

Dorine Bosman, Shell’s vice-president for offshore wind, is also due to leave the company. Two of the sources told the Financial Times that several other top executives in the clean energy part of the business also plan to exit in the coming months.

Not every move is known to be linked to frustration about the pace of change but people familiar with the internal debate said there were deep divisions over the timeframe for reducing the company’s dependence on oil and gas revenues, which influenced the departure of several executives.

People are really questioning if there will be any change at all,” said one of the people familiar with the internal tensions. “Part of the frustration is that you see the potential, but the mindset isn’t there among senior leaders for anything radical.

The timing of the departures is particularly interesting since they are very close to the company’s strategy update in February. At that time, Shell is expected to reveal how it plans to become a net-zero business.

It is also notable that most European oil companies are under pressure from investors and environmentalists to move towards a greener future. That forced several companies, Shell included, to announce net-zero emissions pledges. That pressure is now mounting from the oil major’s workforce.

I don’t know how we are going to transition without wholesale change at Shell. We don’t have the culture or that level of flexibility to do it. I wouldn’t be surprised if we see more high-profile departures”, another person familiar with the internal split told the Financial Times.

Another oil major – BP already revealed that it would cut oil and gas production 40 per cent by 2030 as part of its energy transition plan. Such a move by a rival company could be what forced Shell down the same path.

But it is noteworthy that Shell CEO Ben van Beurden stated last year that his single biggest” regret would be retreating from the oil business prematurely. That, according to him, was something “Shell could not live with”.

What it all comes down to is the fact that some top executives at Shell, the Financial Times says, are concerned about investing larger sums into greener businesses that are not as lucrative as traditional fossil-fuel divisions.

On the flip-side, others are concerned that this would amount to “rearranging the deckchairs” and falling behind peers in adapting to a future when more people shun hydrocarbons.