Resilience and change in a year like no other

Shell CEO Ben van Beurden reflects on 2020, a challenging and extraordinary year: the difficult decisions, the positive change – and reveals what he would ask the last queen of Egypt, a civil rights activist and a great explorer if he could invite them for dinner.

By Kathleen Wyatt and Rob van’t Wel on Jan 6, 2021

2020 was an extraordinary year on so many fronts. What would you say was the most challenging moment for you professionally? And the most inspiring?

There have been many challenging parts and also quite a few inspiring parts. The most challenging was communicating the dividend cut. It reset the entire organization, it was a historic decision and it changed shareholder expectations.

And it was personal too. We thought 2020 would be the year of celebrating financial success. We had done all sorts of amazing things and I saw it as a year to show what we could really do. And then of course, a few months into it, not only did we realize that was not going to happen, but we realized that we would have to cut back in all sorts of ways, from spending plans to operating budgets – and the dividend. I had a knot in my stomach on the day we had to announce it, even though, at a senior level, we all agreed that this was the right thing to do. We agreed it was for the long-term benefit of Shell, it would preserve our financial resilience and set us up for success in whatever comes next.

For me, the most inspiring thing was not one single event, it was the resourcefulness of the whole organization in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic. The way everyone came together and achieved remarkable things on all fronts. If you think about how people looked after each other, the amount of effort and time that went into it, the care. This makes me incredibly proud – and has even brought a tear to my eye. I also saw a business that really fought to deliver on everything with tremendous commitment. That was amazing too. As a group of people, working together, we showed up at our very best.

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