In April 2007, David Greer, the Project Director and Deputy Chief Executive of Sakhalin Energy Investment Company, sent a motivational email to senior employees working on the $22 billion Sakhalin-2 project in Russia, the biggest energy project of its kind in the world.
The memo stood out because of its dramatic military tone and was leaked to what the Financial Times has described as "an anti-Shell website"Â which "has long been a thorn in Shell's side"Â: royaldutchshellplc.com
The owners of the website, a father and son team, Alfred and John Donovan, long time critics of Shell, passed the email to the Financial Times who published a front page story, ironically (given subsequent events) on D-Day 6 June, under the headline: "Pipeliners All! memo urges Shell workers to bounce off the bottom"Â.
The FT article quoted at length from the memo, including the phrase "Lead me. Follow me or Get out of my way"Â. It said that Mr Greer had witnessed comments and body language that suggest a group that "doesn't want to fight and lacks confidence in its own ability"Â. The FT reported that Shell had confirmed the email was genuine. John Donovan had supplied the FT with emailed confirmation obtained from Keith Ruddock, General Counsel of Shell Exploration & Production, Shell International B.V.
The FT also conducted an online poll: "Is this the worst motivational memo ever"Â (FT readers have voted that it is).
Within hours of the article and poll being published, a keen eyed reader noticed that the most stirring passages in the memo had been taken from a speech made by the legendary U.S. General, George S. Patton, on the eve on D-Day 1944. The FT published follow-up articles revealing the astonishing turn of events. Greer had been exposed as a blatant plagiarist.
On 9 June, The Moscow Times published a front page article under the headline: Sakhalin Pep Talk From 'Old Blood and Guts'. Their article ridiculed Greer by saying: In substituting "pipeliners and engineers"Â for Patton's "American he-men"Â heroes Greer's memo reads more like a cross with a pep talk by David Brent, the haplessly self-deluding boss from the BBC's television comedy show "The Office.'"Â
Both newspapers revealed that the email meant solely for internal consumption had been leaked to the Donovan "anti-Shell"Â website. This is the same website which had a major role in the Russian takeover of the Sakhalin-2 project, again as a result of important information leaked to the Donovan's by Sakhalin-2 insiders. John Donovan passed the evidence of project design flaws and construction shortcuts to the so-called "Kremlin attack dog, Oleg Mitvol, the Russian senior environmental official said to be closely connected with President Putin and Gazprom.
After Mitvol threatened Shell with a $30 billion lawsuit based on the evidence supplied by the Donovan's, Shell meekly surrendered, allowing Gazprom to take over from Shell as the majority shareholder in the project. The transaction forced on Shell by the Russian government cost the multi-national oil giant billions of dollars in lost hydrocarbon reserves.
The Moscow Times article included quotes from Mitvol ridiculing Greer and his memo.
On Thursday 21 June, more information was leaked to the Donovan website, this time claiming that David Greer had resigned. The Donovan's confirmed with Jim Niven of Sakhalin Energy that the leaked information was true. Greer had indeed resigned. The Donovan's, with the aid of Shell insiders supporting their website, had inflicted another humiliation on Shell.