Just occasionally in the upstream you meet not an armchair general, but a real one, a retired general hired by an oil company as an adviser, strategist or consultant. Strangely, when generals retire they retain their rank, or at least their title. You know they are coming.

I have encountered five real generals in my career. One was Nigerian, one Angolan, one Indonesian, and two American.

In all five of these encounters, the general took the lead for his delegation. I suspect that a general always takes charge, whether that is what he is hired to do or not.

In 1997 I was working in London for an oil company with operations in Nigeria. A delegation from Nigeria came to see us, lead by a Nigerian general. They wanted something from us. My clients, a little perturbed at the prospect of confronting a real general, asked me to lead at the first meeting. I was slightly queasy at the prospect myself.

After a minimum of small talk the General got down to business. As we expected his demands were ambitious. He ended by saying that his position was not negotiable. This is a phrase that should be used sparingly in a negotiation.

I said that unfortunately his proposals were not acceptable to us, and as they were not negotiable, I could see little purpose in continuing the meeting.

The general glared at me as if I was an insubordinate lieutenant. He then repeated his opening statement, word for word. I repeated my response, word for word.

The Nigerian delegation left and returned the next day, without the general.

Generals are not used to being reasonable, affable and persuasive. They are used to giving orders, and to their orders being obeyed.

As a negotiating style this has its limitations. If the first effort does not succeed, the toolbox is empty.


See also:  Invasion

Chris Thorpe

Chris Thorpe is a respected independent lawyer in the upstream oil and gas industry, and an established lecturer and author. Chris has a LLB in law from Magdalene College, Cambridge and trained as a barrister in London. He worked for eight years' as an in-house lawyer for BP and Marathon. Since 1991, Chris has run his own upstream legal practice, CPTL, which has acted for many upstream clients. He has extensive experience of international upstream transactions, principally in the North Sea, the FSU, Africa and the Middle East. Chris has spoken at many UK and International Conferences and Seminars, both public and in-house. His most popular current lecture is Fundamental of Upstream Petroleum Agreements, a two-day course with accompanying book.