Fond memories of Walter Van de Vijver at Shell

Vol 13, PW 15 (14 Jan 10) People & Policy

Reliance insiders heard the news in early November but it was only on December 18 that the Mukesh Ambani-led oil giant confirmed that Shell’s controversial former head of exploration Walter Van de Vijver (left) would be its new overseas chief, replacing Atul Chandra.

For Reliance, it’s a trophy appointment, but for others, a shock! Former Shell colleagues are not surprised at Reliance’s statement that one of Van de Vijver’s main responsibilities will be to, “focus on developing the company’s E&P portfolio in North America.â€‌ Van de Vijver, they say, is particularly unsuited to working in Africa or Asia.

“Most of his career at Shell was spent working in America, the UK and Europe,â€‌ says a former colleague. “He has little experience of the Middle East, Nigeria or the Far East.

In these regions you have to flatter people to get things done, not tell them off!â€‌ Fifty-four-year old Van de Vijver is no stranger to Reliance. Shortly after his high-profile sacking from Shell in 2004 he set up Delta Hydrocarbons in which Reliance acquired and continues to hold 25%.

“Walter has advised Reliance on several international ventures,â€‌ adds a source. But last September, Van de Vijver was forced out of Delta too – the company he helped set up! “As a result of a disagreement with shareholders,â€‌ said the Delta website on September 22, “Walter van de Vijver and Maarten Scholten, founding executives of Delta Hydrocarbons, have resigned.

â€‌ Again, former colleagues are not surprised! “He’s about as arrogant a Dutchman as you’ll ever get!â€‌ says one, alluding to the racially tinged banter common among Shell’s native English-speakers. “His biggest weakness is his inability to factor other opinions into his judgement.

People are scared of him. Basically, you don’t tell Walter van De Vijver that he’s wrong!â€‌ Van de Vijver will be based in Holland and commute to Mumbai for meetings, according to a company source.