Bernard Looney spent the final 32 years crafting a near-perfect profession at BP. This week it unravelled in a matter of days.
The Irish chief govt resigned with immediate effect on Tuesday night, shortly after the Monetary Occasions reported that he was as a consequence of go away the corporate after failing to reveal previous romantic relationships with colleagues.
His abrupt departure has left BP with out the important thing architect of its energy transition strategy. The FTSE 100 firm additionally now faces questions in regards to the extent and precise nature of Looney’s relationships, and whether or not his conduct displays a wider cultural downside contained in the 113-year-old power main.
“Why was there not a clearer message that you simply don’t jeopardise the wellbeing of the corporate for this sort of factor?” requested one main shareholder.
BP has declined to element the character and variety of Looney’s romantic relationships with colleagues. An inner investigation is ongoing, and the corporate has not stated if its outcomes will ever be made public.
Formally, Looney, 53, has resigned for deceptive the board. It obtained an nameless grievance about his previous relationships in Could 2022. Looney mentioned the grievance at size with the board after which stated he had nothing additional to reveal, just for the corporate to obtain a brand new set of allegations as recently as last week.
From that time, Looney’s tenure at BP unravelled at pace. By Tuesday it had been determined Looney must resign however BP’s board and its exterior disaster communications groups had hoped to have just a few extra days to craft the messaging, in response to folks aware of the matter. Inside the corporate few folks had been conscious of the fast-evolving scenario.
Though the departure rocked the enterprise world, for some buyers and BP workers the explanation for his departure got here as much less of a shock.
Present and former BP workers, notably these based mostly at its London headquarters close to Buckingham Palace, stated Looney’s historical past of romantic relationships with colleagues had been quietly mentioned by employees for years.
Looney joined BP in 1991 aged 21 and was married from 2017 to 2019.
One former senior govt, who left BP just a few years in the past after a protracted profession and who knew Looney however hardly ever labored instantly with him, stated he may recall no less than 4 relationships between Looney and different BP workers. Whereas a few of these ladies had been junior to Looney within the firm, the senior govt stated he had no information of any relationships between Looney and girls underneath his direct supervision.
As is frequent within the appointment of senior executives, BP’s board mentioned a few of Looney’s previous relationships throughout the CEO choice course of. It concluded that there had been nothing inappropriate, that there was no suggestion of abuse of energy, and that this private historical past wouldn’t hinder his capacity to do the highest job, folks aware of course of stated.
Others had been much less assured his romantic life wouldn’t current future issues. “We at all times knew it might come again to chunk him,” stated one one that has labored with Looney. “It was a query of when.”
Trade executives and buyers have raised questions on whether or not the board performed the correct degree of due diligence when appointing Looney as CEO.
BP declined to remark past its Tuesday assertion. Looney didn’t instantly reply to a request for remark.
Strain had already been constructing on Looney for the reason that first inner investigation in Could 2022, which was not publicly disclosed on the time.
Looney had spearheaded essentially the most bold transformation technique within the sector, pledging to maneuver away from oil and gasoline, whereas ramping up spending on its so-called “transition development engines” akin to electrical automobile charging and biofuels. However many buyers remained unconvinced. BP’s shares have lagged behind its rivals since his appointment in February 2020.
A latest inner firm survey even confirmed that many workers had been struggling to know the technique. In response, BP began this 12 months with a push to refine and higher clarify its plans.
BP chair Helge Lund has sought to regular the ship this week, reassuring buyers in a collection of emergency conferences that BP’s technique and operations could be unaffected.
Nevertheless, shareholders have speculated over whether or not BP will stay as dedicated to its transformation with out Looney on the helm.
“It will likely be attention-grabbing if administration modifications how capital is allotted to the power transition versus typical power,” stated one high shareholder.
That might depend upon who is known as to switch Looney. Lund has ruled himself out as the next CEO and stated an inner and exterior search has begun. Exterior of BP executives, Maarten Wetselaar — who missed out on turning into Shell’s CEO to Wael Sawan final 12 months — is seen by analysts as a possible alternative.
Looney had made mis-steps earlier than. In late 2021 he turned the goal of tabloid anger within the UK after describing BP as “a money machine”, at a time when many households had been fighting hovering power payments.
The Solar newspaper, the UK’s biggest-selling, splashed its entrance web page with a narrative on his downfall this week underneath the headline “Price of Loving Disaster”.
Regardless of the whirlwind resignation, BP employees stated the ambiance on the firm’s St. James’s Sq. headquarters had been “surprisingly calm” this week, noting that many workers had already labored by way of abrupt removals of CEOs no less than twice earlier than.
Lord John Browne resigned as BP chief govt in 2007 after mendacity to a court docket over how he met his associate. His successor, Tony Hayward, then left the corporate in 2010 after a drill rig exploded in the Gulf of Mexico killing 11 folks and resulting in the largest ever oil spill in US waters.
Hayward went on to have a profession drilling for oil in Iraqi Kurdistan and serving as chair of Glencore, whereas Lord Browne finally obtained sympathy for his outing as a homosexual man, and took on numerous senior enterprise and governmental roles.
It’s not but clear what’s going to occur to Looney. In an interview with the FT in 2022, Looney, who has no youngsters, stated that BP was his life. “I don’t do a lot else,” he stated.
Within the close to time period he may discover himself in a struggle along with his former employer over tens of millions of kilos in severance pay and clawbacks. After main BP to a document $28bn in earnings final 12 months, Looney’s pay doubled to £10mn together with £6mn underneath a long-term share award.
BP stated when it introduced his resignation that no resolution had been made “in respect of any remuneration funds to be made to Mr Looney”.
One in all many off-colour jokes circulating within the oil trade this week is that this may very well be BP’s largest clean-up operation for the reason that Gulf of Mexico oil spill.
Looney has employed Mishcon de Reya, the London-based regulation agency with a rottweiler-like repute for defending its purchasers’ pursuits, in response to two folks aware of the scenario.
In the meantime, shareholders and present and former BP workers have been left asking precisely what occurred: the corporate’s assertion failed to deal with many questions, akin to whether or not Looney’s conduct or the relationships he hid from the board had been deemed applicable for an individual in his place.
BP has not stated whether or not any of the relationships occurred whereas Looney was within the high job.
“The issue for any firm is it’s just such a bad look,” stated one veteran oil trade analyst. “For the general public it dangers wanting like the corporate in query simply doesn’t care.”
Do you’ve got data on this story? We wish to hear from you. Our investigations workforce will be reached in confidence on +44 777 570 5884 or firstname.lastname@example.org.