What has the power to move you? What can take a bite out of your paycheck, cause political unrest, and keep you warm at night, all in the same breath? It’s no trick question—the answer is energy sources like oil and natural gas. Shell has made a business of such energy sources, and with such expansive reach, it’s easy to see how they’ve gained so much success.
Helping to Power The World
Shell has built a business upon the backs of oil, natural gas, and chemicals; now, as the world turns its eyes toward sustainability, so must Shell. Though the company expressly knows they must focus on low-carbon energy solutions in order to remain competitive, most of their income still comes from those initial revenue sources.
In fact, Shell produces an average of 3.7 million barrels of oil per day. This productivity allows them to employ an average of 82,000 employees in more than 70 countries. With such a robust standing in the world, Shell aims to do three things: strengthen their investment appeal, lead the transition to cleaner energy, and behave ethically with a positive social impact.
A Different Kind of Underwater Treasure
Though Shell as it is known today was officially founded in 1907, the company actually began almost 75 years earlier in 1833 when the founders’ father began dealing seashells from his London business. A popular decorative item at the time, the shells helped generate a healthy legacy for the Samuels Brothers to inherit when their father passed away.
The brothers were interested in expanding their father’s business, particularly into oil exportation. To this aim, they commissioned a number of oil tankers to carry the oil in bulk—an uncommon concept at the time. This success led Shell to open their first refinery in 1897.
In 1907, Shell merged with another oil transport company to create the powerful company that is known today. Following this merger, the company enjoyed a period of great expansion; the two World Wars called Shell to supply oil to the British military, as well as donate its fleet for use. Rebuilding their strength after wars proved a tall order.
However, Shell spent the second half of the 20th century in a flurry of advancement. They discovered oil in the Gulf of Mexico and the Middle East, allowing for quick growth and immense revenue. The collapsing oil prices in the 1980s prompted shell to explore more efficient drilling technologies to keep costs down.
Since then, Shell has acquired other energy companies, helped explore technological advancements, and expanded its empire. Today, Shell admits that climate change poses questions for their business, but aims to take part in a global discussion about how to best negotiate peace between the need for energy, and its environmental impact.
The Business of Black Gold
Discovering oil in the 20th century was akin to striking gold in 1849—it ensured prosperity for years to come. While Shell certainly struck gold, so did several other brands, like Exxon Mobil, Chevron, BP, and ConocoPhillips.
Of these competitors, Exxon Mobil is the largest threat, as it is the only one with a higher valuation than Shell. However, a look at profit trends tells a different story: although Exxon Mobil profited several billion more than Shell in 2018, their profits are in a period of decline, whereas Shell’s have risen steadily for years.
Each of these companies has existed for more than 100 years, and competition seems necessary in such a lucrative industry, so perhaps these rivalries will thrive into the 22nd century as well.
Popstars and Philanthropy
Shell didn’t make it this far without employing its fair share of clever tactics. Like many modern companies, Shell knows how to comfortably navigate social media, but this company’s efforts to portray its mission takes their presence one step further.
In a continuing blitz first laid out in 2016, Shell plays to the strengths of popstars like Jennifer Hudson and Pixie Lott, creating advertisements that are half endorsement and half music video. In these ads, a handful of popstars grace the screen as depictions of new, sustainable innovations unfold around them. The effect of these ads is twofold: Shell expresses its commitment to both progress toward clean energy, and its long-standing mission of making energy more accessible. With nearly 20 million views on one of the videos, the message is apparently well-received.
Shell also asserts themselves as a global force for good by donating millions each year to various causes for social impact. In 2017, the company spent more than $100 million on a range of causes, mostly in developing countries.
As with many energy companies, Shell has been accused of a litany of questionable activities. Among these are complaints that Shell spends millions in anti-climate lobbying and that they dodge taxes.
More recently, Shell has come into hot water for purchasing an oil field in Nigeria while knowing that a great deal of the money would go to a convicted white-collar criminal that previously served as the Nigerian oil minister.
All of this culminates to raise questions about whether Shell’s philanthropic efforts are the product of genuine care and concern for the planet and its communities, or if they are simply damage control designed to disguise their unsavory actions.
On Top of The World
In 2018, Shell ranked as the world’s top oil and gas company for the first time over Exxon Mobil. What’s more, it hit number 9 on the Forbes Global 2000 for 2019, proving that it is not just an international powerhouse, but a company still on the rise after well over a century in business.
In the developed world, there’s no way around using a number of energy sources everyday, and chances are at least some of them were brought to you by Shell.