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NEW YORK -- The president of Shell Oil Co., John Hofmeister, is giving Americans the chance to speak their minds by touring the nation and visiting 50 cities to answer questions posed by residents, reported "ABC News."
"The oil industry has a terrible, terrible image issue that we have to correct" because it has "lived in a bunker," Hofmeister told "ABC News."
"The public doesn't know us," Hofmeister said. "The public doesn't like us. The public doesn't trust us."
As a result, Hofmeister has come out of the bunker to solicit opinions and criticism from invited guests.
The guest list, while not random, isn't predetermined either. In Jacksonville, Fla., the public relations firm Bursten Marsteller searched the community to find guests -- a third from the business field, a third from government and a third from the community at large, according to the report.
The Jacksonville group appeared to be charmed by Hofmeister. One guest told "ABC News:" "He seemed like he would be good with his grandkids."
This event is a change from the old ways at Shell. In the past, the company ran commercials with a fictional character called the Shell Answer Man, who provided scripted talking points.
The information the company obtains from these events is fed back through the chain of command at Shell to gauge concern about different issues, Hofmeister told "ABC News." The effort is important because "it's still a free market. They could choose Shell, they could choose one of our competitors. I think it is about market share. It is about trusting the brand that you choose to put in your tank," he added.
With public sentiments centering on windfall profits, Hofmeister has to also explain the industry's profits, and where they are headed. In 2006, Shell reported $25 billion in profit, which amounts to an average "between 7 and 8 percent," Hofmeister explained. "You know, banks and pharmaceuticals, they make a lot more profit on a percentage basis."
During the sessions, Hofmeister breaks down the numbers, explaining what's invested back into growth, taxes and what goes to shareholders.
Some guests want clarity. At the Jacksonville meeting, U.S. Rep. Corinne Brown, D-Fla., asked: " 'What's up with the growing prices?' That's what they say to me. So I'm asking you, what's up?!"
Hofmeister explained to Brown that global warming is real and Shell should lead the way in possible solutions. But that existing oil supplies are barred from the oil company's use.
"We know there's 110 billion barrels of oil and gas that we know is out there," Hofmeister said. That amounts to 30 years of production that is off limits to American companies, according to Hofmeister.
Jacksonville was the 36th city on Hofmeister's tour, with 14 remaining.