The chief executive of BP has resigned less than four years into his tenure after admitting that he failed to fully detail relationships with colleagues.
Bernard Looney, who has spent his entire career with BP, has departed the £88bn company immediately in a surprise move. On Tuesday night, the company informed investors that Looney “did not provide details of all relationships and accepts he was obliged to make more complete disclosure”.
The company said that Looney disclosed “a small number of historical relationships with colleagues prior to becoming CEO” during a review last year, triggered by information from an anonymous source.
At that time, no breach of the company’s code of conduct was found. However, BP said its board “sought and was given assurances by Mr Looney regarding disclosure of past personal relationships, as well as his future behaviour”.
Further allegations were recently made and an investigation, involving external legal counsel, is ongoing. BP said: “Mr Looney has today informed the company that he now accepts that he was not fully transparent in his previous disclosures.
“The company has strong values and the board expects everyone at the company to behave in accordance with those values. All leaders in particular are expected to act as role models and to exercise good judgment in a way that earns the trust of others.”
Murray Auchincloss, the company’s chief financial officer, will run the business on an interim basis.
Looney was raised on a dairy farm in Ireland and joined BP in 1991 aged 21, shortly after studying electrical engineering in Dublin. The 53-year-old would go on to hold roles in BP’s operations in the North Sea, Vietnam and Mexico, and took on its upstream division in 2016.
He took over at the company in 2020, and quickly set out an ambition for BP to “become a net-zero company by 2050 or sooner”. Looney pledged to build up the company’s operations in low-carbon pursuits including renewable energy and electric vehicle charging.
However, he came under pressure from investors who wanted BP to focus on its oil and gas business, and green campaigners urging the company to move more quickly away from fossil fuels.
Earlier this year, Looney faced criticism from environmental groups after scaling back its climate ambitions at the same time as announcing that annual profits more than doubled to $28bn (£23bn) in 2022 after a sharp increase in gas prices linked to the Ukraine war boosted its earnings.
Looney’s departure, first reported by the Financial Times, marks a changing of the guard at Britain’s two largest energy companies. Wael Sawan took over at BP rival Shell in January.
Looney received nearly £10m in salary and share awards last year, in a move that was labelled a “kick in the teeth” for consumers battling the cost of living crisis.
BP said on Tuesday that no decisions had been made over Looney’s remuneration after his resignation.
In an unusual move for a FTSE 100 chief executive, Looney posts regular updates on Instagram, including a photo of him in Downing Street with the former prime minister Boris Johnson and snaps from earlier in his career, including signing his job acceptance letter in 1991.
During his career at BP, the company had to navigate the devastating Deepwater Horizon scandal, the 2010 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico which threatened the business’s future.
Nick Hawkins, Employment Partner at Knights, said: “This case suggests the spotlight shines ever brighter on senior executive conduct.
Whilst relationships at work may not necessarily present a business with legal issues per se, they often present businesses with practical issues. Relationships at a more junior level are often (reluctantly) accepted as inevitable to a degree by many employers, but the more senior the individual involved, the more their employer may question their judgment of becoming involved personally with colleagues.
“For a senior executive, the issues that can arise can be greatly problematic for a business. However, in this instance, the fatal issue for Mr Looney seems not to have been the fact of the relationships themselves, but rather that he had seemingly not been fully transparent with his disclosures to the business about his personal relationships with colleagues. In circumstances where any employee is not being fulsome with an internal investigation, it could legitimately breach the mutual term of trust and confidence that underpins all employment relationships, and whilst Mr Looney ultimately resigned, it is quite probable that BP would have had little choice but to dismiss.”