This is making me all misty-eyed with nostalgia for the late ’90s/early ’00s:
The board of directors of Statoil proposes to change the name of the company to Equinor. The name change supports the company’s strategy and development as a broad energy company.
Back in the days when New Labour were sneering at anything traditional and wrecking institutions that had worked well enough for centuries, the business world was going through it’s own version of similar self-harm. British Airways replaced the Union Flag on its tailplanes with tribal art, reversing the decision a few years later. Having spent £75m on branding experts, PricewaterhouseCoopers changed its name to Monday, which proved to be a mistake. Sun Alliance and Royal Insurance changed their name to More Than, which it keeps to this day. British Petroleum switched it’s name to BP, getting rid of the shield logo and replacing it with some sort of flower. They also adopted the tagline Beyond Petroleum, despite sales of oil, gas, and petroleum products making up pretty much all their revenues.
It’s this last example which I’m reminded of the most by Statoil’s rebranding, for obvious reasons. Have a read of the guff they’ve come out with to justify it:
The world is changing, and so is Statoil. The biggest transition our modern-day energy systems have ever seen is underway, and we aim to be at the forefront of this development. Our strategy remains firm. The name Equinor reflects ongoing changes and supports the always safe, high value and low carbon strategy we outlined last year,” says chair of the board in Statoil, Jon Erik Reinhardsen.
Basically, Statoil doesn’t want the word “oil” in its name any more despite oil (and gas) production being their core business by a mile and a half. Yes they do other things, including renewable energy – as all the major oil firms now claim – but these activities are negligible in terms of revenue when compared to the production of hydrocarbons and their derivatives, and always will be. If you want to invest in a solar energy company, invest in a solar energy company. Don’t invest in an oil company that has bought some solar energy capability for PR purposes. I noticed a few years back that Porsche now makes luggage and sunglasses, or at least licenses their brand to someone that does. What Statoil’s doing is the equivalent of Porsche rebranding in the hope nobody notices their core business is still making cars.
“Equinor is a powerful expression of who we are, where we come from and what we aspire to be. We are a values-based company, and equality describes how we want to approach people and the societies where we operate. The Norwegian continental shelf will remain the backbone of our company, and we will use our Norwegian heritage in our positioning as we continue growing internationally within both oil, gas and renewable energy,” says Sætre.
A values-based company. Uh-huh. Which company isn’t these days? I’m sure the good folk who dropped a bridge on innocent motorists in Florida claimed the same thing, but what does it actually mean? If values are something you need to consciously adopt and then advertise, perhaps you don’t have them. A friend of mine recently switched employers and one of his first assignments was to attend a three-day workshop with the senior management to decide what the company values would be. This is the same category error as when a CEO stands in front of his staff and says “we need to adopt X culture”. Values, like culture, is something you develop organically, intrinsically, personally. They cannot be imposed by decree, and a company’s culture or values is simply the aggregate of the people within it. If you were to send someone into a modern corporation with a copy of its “values” and tell them to report back when they found the first instance of a manager acting in a way which completely contradicts them, you’d barely have time for a cup of tea. As I’m fond of saying loudly in meetings, if you want to change the culture in a company you need to employ people who already subscribe to that culture, put them in charge, and fire those that don’t (this suggestion doesn’t always go down well.)
“Equinor is a name that is forward-looking, and creates a strong platform for engagement and dialogue with a broad set of stakeholders. We believe it will create internal alignment and pride, and help attract capital, partners and talents,” says Reidar Gjærum, Senior Vice President for Corporate Communication in Statoil.
Here’s another anecdote. I once worked for an outfit that wasn’t doing very well, and the reasons were obvious. The best thing the CEO could have done in terms of helping the company was gas himself in his garage, but instead he decided the company name and logo should change. He hired a consultant to tell him the name and logo was holding them back, but the consultant returned with the message that, on the contrary, the name and logo were probably the best things about the whole damned outfit. The consultant got fired on the spot, but the name and logo remained. The episode taught me that if a company is looking to change its name and logo (slightly updating the latter is fine), it’s got other, more serious problems that aren’t being addressed and the name change is merely a distraction. To their immense credit, RoyalDutch/Shell has retained the latter part of its name and the Pecten logo despite both being completely outdated and irrelevant in terms of what the company does. Coca-Cola never changed its name or logo, despite the company branching out far beyond cola production. And Chicago Bridge and Iron (CBI) famously isn’t in Chicago, doesn’t make bridges, and uses no iron.
Many people are as unimpressed as I am at Statoil’s name change:
The firm, the world’s 11th largest oil and gas company, released a video on Thursday announcing that after 45 years of operations, it is changing its name to Equinor.
The video is perhaps not what you’d expect from a company with assets worth more than €100 billion.
Starting off with the scream of a woman echoing through a forest, the video then cuts to her giving birth, before shots of a little girl doing gymnastics, a classroom of children learning that “to learn is to change”, and a spotty teenager looking in the mirror cross the screen.
Does this sound like an oil company with its eye on the ball? This doesn’t help, either:
Oil majors aren’t famed for their pranks, but Statoil ASA had analysts checking it wasn’t April Fool’s Day when it announced a new name that turned out to have been acquired from an Oslo veterinary practice specializing in horses.
When people think your company’s proposed name change is an April Fool’s joke, you might want to reconsider. Note the disparity between the earnestness of the Statoil CEO and the degree of seriousness on display from the journalist in this passage:
“I don’t expect Equinor to be love at first sight for everyone,” the CEO told reporters in Oslo on Thursday. “Give it a little time, let it mature. I feel very confident that this is right and important for the company to do.”
Statoil declined to disclose how much it paid the veterinarian, who will soon be offering services from equine dentistry to castration under the name of Equina.
And this is illuminating:
The name change is bound to “stir up some emotions,” said Frode Alfheim, the head of Industry Energy, Norway’s biggest oil union. But what counts is that the company remains 67 percent state-owned, stays in Stavanger and focuses on the Norwegian continental shelf, he said.
Basically, a state-owned oil company doesn’t want to be branded as a state-owned oil company; they’re embarrassed by who they are and what they do. How very modern.