Shell adopts tougher management style

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THE STRUGGLE to sharpen the image of the Anglo-Dutch oil group Royal Dutch/Shell continued yesterday with the announcement that it is to be run by a series of chief executives and executive committees.

Mark Moody Stuart, chairman of the company's committee of managing directors, told the group's global leadership conference in London that the changes were a response to the need to make decisions rapidly and to have clear accountability. "We will still have discussions, but we will make business decisions rapidly," he said.

In an effort to maintain the delicate balance of power between the British and Dutch arms, Shell has long been known for its consensual approach to decision-making. This is felt to have served it well, but investors and analysts have grown concerned that it is too bureaucratic and cumbersome for the current business outlook.

Already the subject of criticism for its poor financial performance compared with Exxon and BP, Shell feels the pressure of those companies' planned mergers with Mobil and Amoco respectively and the sharp fall in oil prices.

The changes - whereby each division will be controlled by a small team of senior executives - stem from an overhaul of the organisational structure put in place by Mr Moody Stuart's predecessor, Cor Herkstroter. A spur to the shake-up came from two events in 1995 - the furore over the planned sinking of the Brent Spar oil platform and human rights activists' criticism of the company's role in Nigeria.

These events were seen as demonstrating how far removed the management had become from the real world and how difficult it found responding to crises.