Paul Greenwood reflects on 2021, the current challenges and the year ahead

There is an old Chinese curse – ‘May you live in interesting times’! There is no doubt in my mind that last year matched that description and 2022 is already providing us with additional challenges. 


Looking back, 2021 was certainly a rollercoaster year! The ongoing pandemic, a tough redundancy programme and some very significant asset divestments: the North Sea Longbow project and the Santoprene sale in Newport were significant changes to our portfolio and to our people.  

And of course, last Autumn we also had the fuel supply crisis, with many of our team directly involved in managing the supply from the refinery through pipelines to the terminals and onto the forecourts.  This in particular highlighted the critical role we play in society, because we experienced what happens when our products and services aren't immediately available to people.

2021 showed that we can cope with these things. They're not fun to go through, but we can deal with them as an organisation.  Of course, there are some things that we could have done better, but hopefully we increased our understanding of each other, our roles and what we can and can't do.

The past 12 months also showed what a fantastic organisation we have - quality people who stepped up to the plate and effectively managed problems not of our making. We have continued to make and supply the products that our society needs and that's something that we should all look back on with pride. 

Conflict in Ukraine

Turning to the present, I am sure that you, like me, are appalled by all the horror and suffering in Ukraine following the Russian invasion. This is an incredibly difficult situation for all those affected and my thoughts go out in particular to our Ukrainian and Russian colleagues who are affected by this conflict.

ExxonMobil supports the people of Ukraine as they seek to defend their freedom and determine their own future as a nation, and we deplore Russia’s military action, which violates the territorial integrity of Ukraine and endangers its people. We are deeply saddened by the loss of innocent lives and support the strong international response.

The corporation made clear in its announcement on 1 March that we are complying fully with all sanctions, taking steps to exit our Sakhalin-1 joint venture and will not invest in any new developments in Russia. 

Once again we are facing a situation in which our country, our families and our colleagues need our help and support. The war in Ukraine touches us all - no matter how far we live from the border. And these are times in which we need to take care of ourselves and one another to get through this as effectively as possible. 

This fast developing situation in Ukraine presents new challenges to our business, and we are working together as a team to monitor all relevant developments, including our own corporate guidance and the imposition of sanctions, to manage our way through these exceptionally testing circumstances. We remain in close contact with relevant UK government officials.

As a large integrated company we have the ability to flex our operations where necessary and respond dynamically to the changing situation. I want to thank you all for your hard work, resilience and diligence in assisting the company’s efforts to respond to this new situation, and in helping to ensure we continue to meet the needs of our customers. 

Looking to the future

So, where are we heading? Though our organisation is undoubtedly still strained and we’ve had lots of churn, and people are learning new skills and new roles from the opportunities created. There's no doubt we’ve been helped by high commodity prices, earnings are significantly stronger than they have been in the past 24 months and we’ve a stronger balance sheet. 

We're in a much stronger position, we're stabilising and then we're going to grow. We're already investing in the Southampton to London pipeline project and in Fife, not to mention the Acorn project and the Southampton cluster, and our Lower Carbon Solution business as well. And lots of other parts of the business that aren't necessarily associated with those big projects are also going to be growing and benefiting from a rosier future.

Despite the challenges we are now nicely positioned, not just in terms of growing our activities and business, but also in providing rich opportunities for our people to develop and go to places at the heart of the transition to a lower carbon environment. 

As I look at it now, I see the Corporation is really keen to invest in that area and I think the UK is very well positioned to be able to respond to that and be a focus of growth.