PLATFORM Unravelling the CarbonWeb
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Unravelling the Carbon Web is a project by PLATFORM. We work to reduce the environmental and social impacts of oil corporations, to help citizens gain a say in decisions that affect them, and to support the transition to a more sustainable energy economy.

Notes from Gog and Magog

Carbon Web spent Mayday gripped by the sudden downfall of Lord Browne, Chief Executive of BP. Now that the dust has settled, several things stand out.

Firstly, the hubris and deceit of men at board level. Carbon Web has been studying BP and Shell since 1996, and during those 11 years the two companies have had four CEOs in total. Of these, half have had to resign because they lied: first Phil Watts of Shell and now John Browne at BP.

Secondly, the power of a man in Browne's position. It is remarkable that he could injunct the reporting of the court case so severely that none of the media picked up what was raging in the High Court when covering Browne's January announcement of his plan to resign 18 months early.

Thirdly, Carbon Web notes how Browne was destroyed in part by the very thing that had enabled him to gain such prominence, his closeness to Blair. The full extent of that relationship was stunningly illustrated by Chevalier's revelations to the Mail on Sunday.

The final point of note is that as Browne departs he is outlasted by a cannier political figure, BP Chair Peter Sutherland. Browne and Sutherland's rivalry first became public in 2006, over the issue of Browne's proposal to take over Shell and his desire to stay beyond BP's statutory retirement age of 60. It seems Sutherland felt that Browne was becoming too large a public figure in his own right, eclipsing the company that gave him his power. Sutherland also disliked Browne's personality cult within the corporation, perhaps that reminded BP old-timers of the bad days of Bob Horton, another BP CEO unceremoniously cast out in 1992. It is ironic that it was Browne's glory days that dispelled the clouds of the Horton era, and intriguing that Sutherland is also on the board of Goldman Sachs that discreetly dumped Browne as a non-executive after Mayday.

There is a sense that the Chevalier scandal provided an opportunity to give Browne the push. Certainly the company did so with marked brutality - minutes after being dethroned, Browne left BP's head offices alone into a media scrum. How did the media know he was coming? Was that a PR slip, or was somebody in the company keen to see Browne humiliated in front of the cameras? Either way, that old bruiser, Sutherland, sails on, as any blame for BP's woes is conveniently shouldered by the sacrificial king.


This article is from the Carbon Web Newsletter Issue 7, 30 May 2007.

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