A fumbled layoff hurt morale at Exxon, and it could hinder the oil giant’s recovery

An Exxon sign is seen at a gas station in the Chicago suburb of Norridge
Reuters

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Want to get Insider Energy in your inbox every Friday? Sign up here. You can reach me at bjones@businessinsider.com. I welcome feedback and story tips. Join us: On March 8 we’re hosting a virtual roundtable on building a clean energy economy. You can register here. It’s Friday before a long weekend. What joy. 
Last month I had the pleasure of interviewing Bill Gates about his climate and energy work, and the role of tech in slowing global warming. Stay tuned for our coverage over the weekend. 
In the meantime, let’s get into what happened this week – some Big Oil updates, lots of startup news, and so many electric-vehicle SPACs.

Exxon’s top four execs. From left to right: Andrew Swiger, SVP and Principal Financial Officer; Darren Woods, CEO; Jack Williams, SVP; and Neil Chapman, SVP.
Richard Carson/REUTERS; Richard Carson/REUTERS; Mark Schiefelbeinl/Getty; Fazry Ismail/Getty; Skye Gould/Insider

A fumbled layoff has caused morale at Exxon to sink, which could hinder the oil giant’s recovery We covered layoffs in the oil industry last year, but put less attention on one of their potential impacts: a drop in employee morale. It tends to be worse if job cuts are not handled well. 
At Exxon: Current and former employees say the company fumbled job cuts and morale has suffered as a result. You can read the full story here. 
So what: Poor morale in the wake of layoffs tends to cause a decline in worker performance and higher safety risks. It can also make it difficult for a company to attract top talent in the future, according to two business professors we talked to. 
"Concerns about quality and safety fall," said Sandra Sucher, a professor of management practice at Harvard Business School. "If you’re in the energy industry in a business that depends on both of those things hugely, that’s a very definite risk."Exxon faced an incredibly tough 2020, posting a $22 billion loss. Investors are watching to see how well it recovers.So far so good: This year Exxon’s stock is already up more than 20%. In other news: Exxon’s shareholder meeting in May is worth watching, following campaigns launched by activist investors to shake up the company’s board and push it to do more to address climate change. 
One thing to watch is whether a proposal submitted by BNP Paribas Asset Management on climate lobbying comes to a vote. You can read more about that here. Got a tip? You can reach me at bjones@businessinsider.com or through Signal at 646-768-1657. 
In other Big Oil news … 

A Shell gas station in west London
Reuters

Check out the slides from Shell’s investor day that detail how it plans to make money while slowly ditching fossil fuelsShell hosted its big strategy day Thursday, during which its chief executive walked investors through a 75-page presentation about the firm’s transition away from fossil fuels. We picked out 8 slides that lay out its strategy. 
Shell’s approach: The Netherlands-based company will sell a lot more power, hydrogen gas, biofuels, and electricity for charging cars. 
One slide I thought was neat shows what Shell gas stations of the future might look like. Of note, the company said it reached peak oil production in 2019, and peak emissions the year before. But: Fossil-fuel products will still make up the majority of its business (and budget) in the near-term. 
Also, not all investors and climate advocates were pleased with Shell’s new strategy. Its stock dipped following the event and some analysts pointed out that its budget for renewables was relatively low, Yahoo News reported. In other news: European rival Total also made a big announcement this week: The company is planning to rebrand as "TotalEnergies" as part of its push to sell cleaner forms of energy. 
Total said it will transform over the next decade, growing its production of natural gas and renewable energy. The two companies have taken different clean-up approaches: While Shell is becoming a major power trader, Total has poured resources into physical renewable-energy assets. 

David Energy just scored $19.1 million in new financing.
David Energy

It was a big week for startup raises … We had the exclusive this week on David Energy, a Brooklyn-based startup that scored $19 million in a push to redefine what a power company looks like. 
David Energy is small and its business is obscure (not to mention technical) but it offers a ton of insight into what electricity companies of the future might look like. The startup sells power to buildings. It also operates software that helps those buildings control their demand for electricity by managing batteries, solar panels, and other energy assets onsite. That allows it to take advantage of fluctuating energy prices. True to its name David Energy is taking on a major industry dominated by just a handful of energy giants. (Yes: It was named after David from David and Goliath) As I said, it was a big week for startup raises: 
Powin Energy, a battery startup, raised more than $100 million from investors including Energy Impact Partners and Trilantic Capital Management. Greentech Media has more. Highview Power, a startup focused on long-duration storage, raised over $70 million. Investors include Janus Continental Group, TSK, and Sumitomo Heavy Industries.C-Zero raised $11.5 million in a round led by Bill Gates’ Breakthrough Energy Ventures and Eni Next, the venture arm of Italian energy giant Eni. C-Zero makes what it calls "clean hydrogen" using natural gas. Finally, Enevate, yet another battery startup, raised $81 million, in a round led by Fidelity. In other news: Insider’s Lianna Norman did a dive into the Ford-backed battery startup Solid Power, which is developing solid-state batteries. 
The technology "replaces the standard lithium-ion battery’s liquid electrolyte with a solid one," Norman writes. "The result is an increase in safety and energy retention that could hit the conventional market like a one-two punch."You can read her full story here. 

Rendering of a Hyzon Motors truck
Hyzon Motors

… and for EV companies going public. Blink and an EV startup will go public via a SPAC, probably. I mean, here’s the news from this week alone: 
Fuel-cell startup Hyzon Motors is going public via – surprise! – a SPAC. Hyzon was one of our 46 climate-tech startups to watch this year. Electric-truck company Xos Trucks is in talks to go public, also through a SPAC, Reuters reports.  Chinese EV startup Byton is also in talks to go public via SPAC, per Reuters. Amazon-backed Rivian is also looking to go public this year, at a valuation of roughly $50 billion, though it will take the traditional IPO route. But: The EV stock boom that these companies want to cash in on faces a number of threats, Insider’s Mark Matousek reports. 

BI Graphics

Join us: Insider event on building a clean energy economy We’ve booked an awesome crew of energy folks to chat with us on March 8 for a live roundtable about the clean energy economy. You can find more info on the event here. 
When: Monday, March 8, 10:00 to 10:00 am EST
Where: Register to attend here. 
Panelists: Elisabeth Brinton, SVP of Shell’s New Energies division; Mateo Jaramillo, CEO and cofounder at Form Energy; Urvi Parekh, head of renewable energy at Facebook; and Francois Austin, partner and global head for energy at Oliver Wyman.
We hope to see you there! 
That’s it! Have a great long weekend (if you’re off Monday …). 
– Benji 
Ps. I tried to stuff Jumi into his doggie backpack this weekend. It turns out he’s grown a lot. He ended up jumping out of the backpack on the subway, which of course made me panic. Before that happened I snapped a pic. 

Benji Jones

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