People finder

Portrait watermark

Dr James Smith CBE

Honorary Doctorate of Sciences


Dr James Smith is known for his commitment to exploring and promoting low-carbon technologies, and as a board member of two leading campaigns for workplace equality, he signals his commitment to equality and diversity.

Following a degree in physics at Aberdeen University, Dr Smith began his career as an accountant with Ernst & Young and then moved to consulting with Accenture. In the early 1980s, the oil company Shell became a client and James's fascination with the energy industry began. In 1983, he jumped ship to join Shell, working on upstream oil and gas operations. He travelled widely, spending over four years living in Malaysia and Brunei, and working on projects in the Middle East and the US.

In the course of his 27-year career with Shell, James has held a number of senior posts, including head of technology at Shell Chemicals and head of resourcing, where he was responsible for ensuring that a talented and diverse group of people were recruited to the top 200 jobs in the company. "It's about attracting the best talent, of course. But diversity of thought is key to better, more informed decision-making," he says. "It's good to foster a culture where leaders are committed to diversity, and where people can be themselves and succeed."

In 2004, James was appointed chairman of Shell UK, at a time when the twin challenges of energy security and tackling climate change were becoming more acute. "Shell must play its part in stepping up to the energy challenge," he says, "So Shell advocates putting a price on carbon and other measures to promote low carbon energy. Shell has chosen those areas of low carbon technology that best suit its skills in fuels and large scale process engineering. That means", he continues, "a focus on four areas; energy efficiency; gas as the lowest carbon fossil fuel; carbon capture and storage; and advanced biofuels."

He argues for the establishment of a global carbon market. "The emergence of a global carbon market would put a price on carbon that could then be factored into businesses' investment decisions and consumers' buying decisions," he says. "And if carbon credits are recognised internationally then that results in a flow of funds into the developing world."

Since 2009, James has been president of the Energy Institute. He describes the Energy Institute as a learned society where people can go to learn about energy. The Institute pursues four main themes, standard setting; training and accreditation; knowledge sharing; and providing an objective setting for debating the energy challenge. He chairs the advisory board of the University of Cambridge Programme for Sustainability Leadership, that works with business, government and civil society to build the capacity of leaders to factor sustainability into business decision making. He is also on climate advisory boards at the Grantham Institute and UCL and he is a board member of the Carbon Trust.

James believes that diversity and inclusion is an area of business competitive advantage as well as being the right thing to do. He sits on the boards of both Opportunity Now and Race for Opportunity, employer groups that work to support and promote gender and racial diversity in the workplace. "When people ask for the business case for diversity and inclusion to be proved, I reply it's about recruiting more talent, more creativity in the workplace and better customer service."

View my publications at