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We interview Rob Sherwin, VP Corporate Relations, Shell

Posted: Dec 2023
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Rob Sherwin’s career spans the Foreign Office, building a reputation management consultancy from scratch and now he runs a large team of corporate comms professionals as VP Corporate Relations for Shell in Europe and Sub-Saharan Africa. Rob shares the secrets to leadership success, the importance of belief, pride and purpose in your company alongside memories of his time in the Middle East including a surprising encounter with a camel!

1. Can you give us a brief overview of your career so far?
Twice in my career I have chosen to work for Shell: my first decade-long stint started straight out of university and was in commercial, strategy and new business development roles; and my second decade has been as a corporate affairs leader. In between, I spent two years as a UK Foreign Office diplomat advising Whitehall on Middle East energy matters, and five years based in Abu Dhabi building a reputation consulting practice from scratch. Along the way my family and I have called Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Doha, The Hague .. and now Winchester .. home.

2. You now head up a team of around 200 corporate affairs professionals across Europe and Sub-Saharan Africa for Shell. What’s the secret to success, managing such a large team?
Hiring and choosing brilliant team leaders, providing them support and air-cover where it’s needed, but mostly keeping out of their way.

3. What is the biggest lesson you have learned as a comms leader at Shell?
Even in a challenging and controversial sector, communications is in many ways the easier bit of the role. The harder – and in my view more interesting – challenge, is ensuring that corporate affairs professionals can influence decision-making so that the company’s performance and behaviour is something to communicate with pride.

4. You showed real entrepreneurial spirit, setting up the Abu Dhabi office for reputation management agency Register Larkin, especially without previous agency experience; tell us more.
It was a very deliberate choice to move out of my ‘big organisation’ comfort zone after 12 years in Shell and the Foreign Office. I sought-out the smallest company I could find that would give me the opportunity to build a business using their IP! Initially I was nervous about whether I would be able to persuade companies to pay for my personal expertise, whereas I was confident I would learn a lot from doing the client work. The reality was rather the other way round: I loved chasing and winning the work to build-up to 7 staff in 3 countries, but I found it frustrating only ever to be advising on, not accountable for my clients’ issues – hence the move back in-house.

5. What is your most memorable work moment?
Being hosted to lunch by His Highness The Emir of Qatar, alongside several top flight international footballers, where the table was laid with a whole cooked sheep, and a whole cooked camel – hump and all.

6. What is the biggest challenge you have faced in your career so far?
Working-out how to juggle two careers within a marriage and family.

7. What advice would you give to corporate comms professionals aspiring to high-profile careers?
Choose a company where you really care deeply about what they do, or produce, or contribute. When the going gets tough, it will be a sense of belief, pride and purpose that sees you through.

8. Who inspires you, and why?
I observe and learn from a wide number of leaders, some of whom I’m lucky enough to lead myself. And to keep leadership in perspective, I read a lot of history, including about warfare and exploration. No challenge at work ever seems too insurmountable if you’ve just been reading about Ernest Shackleton.

9. If you hadn’t ended up working in comms, what was your plan B?
Become a diplomat. But I’ve been lucky enough to do that too. Plan C was/is (!) to become a landscape photographer.

10. You are incredibly busy in your professional life, what do you do outside of work to de-stress?
I’m very disciplined about keeping my evenings and weekends for myself and my family. Starting each day with a dog-walk, and cross-country running every weekend, helps to keep me sane.

Thank you, Rob!

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