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John Browne, CEO , BP

John Browne
John Browne

Founded: 1909 (as Anglo-Persian Oil)

Headquarters: London, England

Main business is exploration and production of crude oil and natural gas; refining, marketing, supply and transportation; and the manufacture and marketing of petrochemicals.

Operates in 100 countries with well-established businesses in Europe, North and South America, Australasia and Africa.

Merged with Amoco in 1998 to form one of the strongest energy and petrochemical companies in the world.

Solar and renewables business activities include the development, production and marketing of solar panels and the development of wind farms.

They say: "Everyone who works for BP contributes to our success and to creating a distinctive company. Working together, drawing from our diverse talents and perspectives, we will stimulate new and creative opportunities for our business."

What are you reading?

I'm certainly not reading any management texts. I don't actually like management texts very much although one of my colleagues does provide me a digest of the main texts. I'm reading some books on Venice which is a preoccupation of mine at the moment.

Who's been your biggest influence?

I've had tremendous people coach me and teach me over my 35 years in business. There's been some great past chairman of BP. Peter Walters and David Simon to pick but two who've been tremendously influential on my thinking, but also people like Andy Grove -- I've been serving on the board of Intel for some time -- and also Hank Paulson who was the CEO of Goldman Sachs. I serve on these boards because I believe I can contribute but also because I can learn from great people.

What's been your biggest mistake?

I suppose some people may say it was actually coming into business. My biggest mistake was to worry about things in too much detail and losing the picture once in a while. I always say to myself that the most important thing is never to lose the plot. No quarter passes with perfection. No year passes with perfection. The real question is: Are you sticking to the plot? If you lose the agenda, if you lose the purpose, the agenda of a company, which is to get long-term shareholder value, then things go wrong. If you get too concerned about the day to day -- that's important but it should never be worried about at the expense of the overall plot.

Is management an art or a science?

Management is both an art and a science. My own view is that it needs to be based on a rational, logical and carefully thought through structure but that only gives you the underpinning. Management is about people. It's about leadership and motivation and energizing people so they understand what needs to be done so they feel part of it, so they feel rewarded and they feel encouraged to come along with the overall purpose of an organization. One or the other simply doesn't work in my view.

What do you reach for on your desk when the fire alarm goes off?

Other than my wallet, the most important things are my cigars and my pens because they have great emotional feeling for me. The rest -- papers -- if you can't remember what's in the papers then it's really not worth remembering.

Curriculum Vitae

Born: 1948

  • Joined BP in 1966 as a university apprentice following a physics degree at Cambridge University. Between 1969 and 1983 held a variety of Exploration and Production posts in Anchorage, New York, San Francisco, London and Canada.
  • Became group treasurer and chief executive of BP Finance International in 1984 and appointed chief executive officer of Standard Oil Production Company following BP/Standard merger in 1987. Joined BP board as managing director in 1991.
  • Following BP/Amoco merger in 1998 became group chief executive of BP Amoco.
  • Knighted in the 1998 Queen's Birthday Honors and made a life peer in 2001.
  • Credited with taking BP in a "greener" direction.
  • He says: "The best investment opportunities will go increasingly to companies that have the size and financial strength to take on those large-scale projects that offer a truly distinctive return."

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