When a London tabloid threatened to out Lord Browne, the BP C.E.O. was forced to step down. Now, as the global oil giant struggles with a change in management and a crush of wrongful-death lawsuits, shareholders are learning that his company may also have been leading a double life.
Mimi Swartz puts together a rollicking good read for Portfolio.com. Some exerpts:
...What has emerged in the wake of Browne’s departure is a picture of an executive who had begun to believe his own spin. Browne saw himself as the embodiment of his company, and he banked on the idea that what is basically a very grimy and combustible business could run on gloss and glitz. In the end, of course, it couldn’t. As Browne’s life grew ever more glamorous and then cratered, BP was left to flounder: Profits tumbled and the stock price flatlined. It’s telling that Hayward, a 25-year BP executive, has had to spend his first few months at the helm reconnecting the C.E.O.’s office to the business of oil and gas.
...He styled himself as a distinctly British oilman: cultured and eccentric, so polished that his ruthlessness was nearly impossible to detect, so forward-looking and intellectual that reporters listened raptly. In some ways, Browne’s persona is one very familiar to Americans, who have endured their share of recent corporate scandals: a sophisticated C.E.O. in a bespoke suit who can converse about anyone else’s business as easily as his own, who can hold forth on topics ranging from hedge funds to Broadway shows to fine art, from philanthropy to a lovely cabernet to the latest novel by Salman Rushdie. This is the kind of leader who gets a pass from the press, at least until disaster strikes.
...One look at BP’s headquarters in St. James’s Square and you get it: The building is a monument to impeccable taste and assertive understatement. Nestled quietly among Georgian mansions, the squat, sunlit brick edifice nods to the past, and inside is as spare and hushed as a monastery. A large, contemporary landscape photograph by Thomas Struth and a video projection of moving grasses serve as the only adornment. A stranger venturing in would not necessarily suspect this is the headquarters of a corporation, much less a global oil company. It is as if someone wanted to pretend that BP was something else entirely—a thriving nonprofit dedicated to furthering the arts, for example. And John Browne, the anti-oilman, could have been its leader.
Here's the whole piece on this_____ (words fail me).
And the dénouement?
Former BP Chief Executive John Browne has made a return to the oil industry, taking up a senior position at one of the world's largest private equity funds just three months after his scandal-tainted departure from BP.
In a surprise announcement Friday, New-York based Riverstone Holdings LLC, a private equity firm specializing in the energy and power sectors, said it had appointed Browne as head of its European operations.
...Brown will have the benefit of avoiding public shareholder scrutiny at Riverstone, which conducts buyout and growth capital investments in the midstream, upstream, power, oilfield services and renewable sectors of the energy industry....MORE
From Forbes Aug. 24, 2007