Ladies and gentlemen,
I run an oil and gas company. Do you trust me? To produce oil and gas safely? To do the right thing on climate change?
You work in the tech sector. Do I trust you? With my credit card details? With data about my friends, and wife, and children?
I think both our industries could be doing better on trust. My industry could be doing a lot better.
Shell is still trusted in many parts of the world but, in places like western Europe, trust in my industry faded over decades.
It does not take decades now. Today, when things go wrong, everyone knows instantly.
It might not feel like it, but this is a good thing for tech.
The warnings are sounding out… loud and clear. Tax demands, Senate hearings, an antitrust fine costing billions.
Shell got its alarm call in 2004. Senior executives lied. They claimed the company had bigger oil reserves than it did. Shell had to recognise it was not even getting some basics right; and honesty is pretty basic for any business seeking trust.
Do no harm
Also basic is this: doing no harm. For oil and gas that means operating safely, without hurting either people or the environment. If you look at Shell’s record in Nigeria, we did not always get those basics right either.
Of course, getting the basics right sounds easy. But it is not. And there are only three things to do when you fail: say sorry; learn, so you do not do it again; and repair the damage.
That also sounds easier than it is. Even today, the work goes on to embed the lessons of 2004. Even today there are oil leaks in Nigeria, mainly caused by others, that we are trying to clear up. And, of course, we still make mistakes. We will always have a lot to learn.
For tech, an equivalent would be data leaks. Even careful companies make mistakes or can be hit by hackers.
Getting the basics right is not easy. But, let’s face it, “basics” is still a low bar to jump. If we want trust, we have to do better.
For a start, by making sure our products are a good fit for society – that our customers want and need them.
The good news, both for me and you, is our products do fit.
So much comes from energy and the products made from oil and gas. Everything around you, from the seat you are sitting on to the food you eat and the phone in your pocket: all of it relies on energy, or petrochemicals, or both.
Tech can point to the communications that bring people together, the convenience of a digital world, the knowledge now at our fingertips. Like energy, the benefits of what you do are all around us. Unfortunately, that means they can also get taken for granted.
So, neither your industry, nor mine, can afford to stop making the positive case for our products.
But that is not to say we should fall in love with our own reflections.
True, tech has much to admire in its own reflection. But we must all see ourselves as we truly are. That means recognising not everything about our products is wonderful.
In Shell’s case, for example, the greenhouse gas emissions that come with producing and using energy. We must face the world, as the saying goes, warts-and-all.