GETTING HUGE AND GETTING SACKED IN THE OIL BUSINESS

The numbers are breathtaking.

Exxon Mobil will cut 14,000 more workers from its newly merged megaself. That will bring to 16,000 the number of people who have lost jobs because of the union. The premerger estimate: 9,000.

The company announced the enlarged workforce cut on Dec. 15 during its first presentation to investment analysts since consummation of what Chairman Lee Raymond called a "once-in-a-lifetime opportunity."

The same day, Royal Dutch/Shell reported cost-savings efforts that include 18,000 layoffs.

So Exxon Mobil cuts headcount by an estimated 15%. Shell cuts headcount by 18%.

Thus do the giants compete. And so goes business in the 1990s.

But 34,000 employees of companies that know a thing or two about the oil and gas business are being set loose in the world with tidy piles of cash to ease the hardship.

Someone could start up a very nice oil company with that crowd-several very nice oil companies, in fact.

Some of the cashiered Shell and Exxon Mobil hands will use their package money to buy passage out of an industry fast earning itself the reputation for being hostile to workers.

Others of them, however, will hope to stay in the oil and gas business because it's what they know and like.

Imagine what someone could do with some capital, a few thousand former Exxon, Mobil, and Shell professionals not yet ready to give up, and a commitment to pay reasonable salaries for, say, 3 years to workers who produce results.

This would definitely be a group of people who knew their ways around oil and gas operations. It would probably be a group of people still enthusiastic about ideas that had been stifled in the huge organizations where they used to work.

It would also be a group of people with cash in their checking accounts and a renewed sense that work doesn't have to be a daily Darwinian drama staged for investment bankers.

A company like that would probably make a lot of money finding oil and gas.

Getting huge and sacking workers aren't the only ways to compete in the energy business.

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