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When BP chiefs depart, it’s usually a dramatic exit

Bernard Looney (Aaron Chown/PA) (PA Archive)
Bernard Looney (Aaron Chown/PA) (PA Archive)

By any standards running the company of the geopolitical scale and scope of BP should be regarded as one of the most important posts in British commerce.

It is hard to think of a role that better fits the old expression “captain of industry”.

You would think that the chief executive of BP would be a beacon of stability with the torch handed from incumbent to incumbent through a smooth succession process planned years in advance. You would be wrong.

With his sudden defenestration last night Bernard Looney becomes the third out of the last four BP bosses to depart in, shall we say, unexpected circumstances.

John Browne, the fallen “sun king” of the global energy industry, started the trend in 2007. He quit as CEO after it was revealed he had lied to a court about his relationship with another man. His successor Tony Hayward stepped down by “mutual agreement” in 2010 over the way in which he handled the Deepwater Horizon oil rig explosion and subsequent environmental disaster. He had not helped his cause by complaining “I’d like my life back”.

The Bob Dudley decade was, by contrast, relatively stable. He at least was able to choose the date of his retirement.

But now Bernard Looney has restored the trend with his dramatic late-night resignation for failing to fully disclose of past relationships with colleagues.

The relatively modest fall in the share price today suggests investors are not that bothered about the corporate comings and goings. But it is not a good look.

BP is a serious business operating serious assets, and performing a vital role in the economy and the net zero revolution.

These embarrassing boardroom distractions are not helpful.