Some years ago I was working for Shell in Dubai where there was a small and successful downstream (marketing) operation. This was a fairly conventional business involving the marketing of a wide range of petroleum products to a variety of different customers across the United Arab Emirates. A key element of this business was, and always had been, the operation of a product distribution/transportation activity involving oil depots, vehicles and drivers. For more than thirty years this business had been built up as a professional, cost-effective and customer focused operation. It also had an admirable safety record (in a high risk area) and the staff of thirty or so tanker drivers were a loyal, skilled and motivated team.

In the late 1990s Shell’s Central offices sent a new Distribution man to the region and, operating out of Oman, he visited Dubai charged with the responsibility of “outsourcing” the transportation operation. When challenged by me and others in the management team in Dubai as to why this was necessary he said that it was now “company policy” to outsource this business (i.e. to sack the drivers and sell the vehicles). A number of us were incensed by the insensitivity of this and we demonstrated that not only would no cost savings occur but that we would be needlessly disposing of the services of a team of loyal and skilled drivers each of whom was proud of his personal safe driving record and a motivated member of the local Shell family.

Well the battle raged on for a while with the argument that to go arm lengths in an area as safety sensitive as dangerous fluids distribution was bad practice – especially as no possible cost savings would result. Furthermore to dispense with the services of the drivers many of whom had up to thirty years service hardly sat well with “Corporate Social Responsibility”! But this was ideology at its most sinister. The man from Oman had on his “scorecard” the target of outsourcing in Dubai. If he succeeded his remuneration would benefit – as well, of course, as showing that he was a loyal implementer of the new edict. He didn’t care one jot about the employees or their futures – all he cared about was showing himself off in a good light. Well we did fight on but in the end we lost. The drivers were sacked and the operation was outsourced. The irony of this story is that there was no financial benefit to Shell at all from the decision. Outsourcing (in this instance) wasn’t cheaper – it was simply the application of a dogma!

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