New corporate affairs head Alan Goldsmith has always been sure of Shell
Six weeks into his new job as corporate affairs and administrative
director for Shell UK and Alan Goldsmith appears to be enjoying himself.
At one stage during our interview a head pops through the door - it is
Shell UK chairman Chris Fay. ‘The man who loves meetings,’ he says.
‘This isn’t a meeting, this is fun,’ retorts a grinning Goldsmith.
His breezy self-confidence and cheerful banter is a stark contrast with
his predecessor, the rather donnish John Wybrew - now at British Gas.
Where Wybrew - some five months after the Brent Spar hit the headlines -
appeared thoughtful almost introspective, Goldsmith reflects a more
self-confident mood in the company.
Describing Brent Spar as a ‘defining event’, Goldsmith insists that
lessons have been learned. ‘It brought home to us the fact that we might
have all the right scientific arguments, which we did, but there was
more to it than that,’ he says.
Certainly the company has sharpened up its act. It is currently nearing
the end of an exhaustive consultation process on plans for the disposal
of Brent Spar and has an impressive PR operation including a Brent Spar
Yet, despite two of the biggest corporate PR disasters of the last few
years for the Shell brand globally - Brent Spar and Nigeria - the
company is in no mood for more apologies. Indeed, says Goldsmith. ‘that
we attract that degree of attention is almost a compliment to our
A life-long Shell man and qualified accountant, Goldsmith began his
career within the finance department and has held senior positions
within Shell companies in Oman, Malaysia, Ghana, Brunei and Argentina.
In all 12 jobs in 25 years - of which 19 were spent overseas. He joined
straight from university, lured by the ‘buzz’ of big business and the
prospect of travel.
Although he would not look out of place at an accountants’ convention,
right down to the grey suit, Goldsmith is, according to Wybrew: ‘a very
extrovert, outgoing sort of chap, not in any sense a grey accountant’.
An English graduate and one-time aspiring actor, Goldsmith also feels
the ‘grey accountant’ tag is unfair - several times he makes the point
that although he started out in finance his jobs have become
increasingly ‘generalist’. Addressing the fact that he has never had a
specialist PR or public affairs job, he says: ‘There are so many aspects
of public affairs, if you take government relations, I’ve been doing it
As well as public affairs, Goldsmith is responsible for finance,
personnel and legal matters, and the administration of Shell’s London
HQ, ShellMex House - a staff of 85 of which public affairs accounts for
It is all part of a gradual decentralisation process, aimed at
‘empowering’ Shell’s three businesses: Shell UK Exploration and
Production; Shell UK Downstream Oil and Shell Chemicals UK. Goldsmith
explains: ‘Whereas historically we had a number of strong functional
corporate directors, the feeling was we should just stand back, let the
businesses run their own shop and only do at corporate level what
strictly needs to be done at corporate level so three quite heavy jobs
became one quite heavy job’.
Thus Goldsmith now combines the job of finance director with John
Wybrew’s old patch of public affairs and personnel - which were combined
following the departure of personnel director Clive Mather to Shell
International last August.
‘I’m not Superman,’ says Goldsmith, ‘it is a very heavy workload. What
it needs is constant and ruthless prioritisation. It forces me through
this amalgamation of various activities, to prioritise what is important
to be done at the corporate level. I’ve only been here six weeks, but so
far it seems to be working’.
1978 Finance manager, Shell Ghana
1987 Finance manager Petroleum Development, Oman
1991 Area co-ordinator, Brazil and Southern Africa, Shell International
1993 Head of finance, investment and information France, Gibraltar,
Portugal, Malta, Spain