John Browne turned BP into the oil industry’s leanest machine, but his cost-cutting now looks like a liability
There were many contradictions in the life and career of Lord Browne of Madingley. He was a small man in a business that prizes scale above all else; an aesthete whose peers seemed happier in the strip clubs of Houston; and a homosexual in an industry of macho frontiersmen. But the oddest thing of all is that despite two years of mismanagement at his company, John Browne resigned as chief executive of BP in May surrounded by scandal but with a chorus of praise in his ear.
“Business genius,” proclaimed the Economist. “The greatest businessman of his generation,” said Peter Sutherland, Browne’s chairman at BP. Other commentators rushed to condemn the allegedly homophobic culture of the City.
Some of this praise was deserved. Browne was undoubtedly brilliant—often as a businessman, sometimes simply as a showman. His command of his brief rarely slipped. And he could entertain a crowd. I remember