Was wir über den Rücktritt des BP-Chefs Bernard Looney wissen.

Looney bei einem Auftritt in London

Looney bei einem Auftritt in London

Foto: Toby Melville / REUTERS

Bernard Looney, aged 53, abruptly resigns as CEO of BP, a major corporation with approximately 67,000 employees and a revenue of $241 billion. When a company leader resigns „with immediate effect,“ it is always a significant event. BP is among the top 30 companies globally. However, there is limited information available about the circumstances surrounding Looney’s resignation at this time.

What did the corporation communicate?

In der Pressemitteilung von BP  steht, Looney selbst habe dem Konzern seinen Rücktritt mitgeteilt, nachdem er akzeptiert habe, bei bestimmten Angaben nicht ausreichend transparent gegenüber BP gewesen zu sein. Dabei gehe es um persönliche Beziehungen Looneys im Kollegenkreis. Deutlicher wird die Mitteilung in diesem Punkt nicht.

It is described that there were already accusations in this direction in May of last year, which the company investigated. They are said to stem from an anonymous tip. However, the investigation found no evidence of violations of conduct rules. Looney provided a statement on BP’s request regarding the disclosure of previous relationships and his commitment to future compliance.

Mehr zum Thema

Recently, there have been new indications that an external legal counsel has been brought in to investigate the allegations. This process is ongoing and is not concluded with Looney’s resignation.

Looney habe nun erklärt, dass er bei seinen bisherigen Offenlegungen »nicht vollständig transparent« gewesen sei. Er erkenne an, dass er BP hätte weitreichender informieren müssen.

Can someone please translate this?

Das liest sich alles sehr wolkig. Konkret könnte es offenbar um Affären gehen. Allerdings: Solange man dazu keine persönliche Stellungnahme Looneys hat, ist selbst das nicht sicher. Looney war für Anfragen des SPIEGEL nicht erreichbar, auch BP hat eine 24-stündige Frist zur Beantwortung von Nachfragen ungenutzt verstreichen lassen.

When it comes to affairs, it is important to know that in many Anglo-Saxon influenced corporations, the rules are very strict. Especially the management personnel often have to contractually commit to not having or allowing any sexual relationships with colleagues in the future; if such relationships occur, the employer must be informed. These clauses can also aim to exclude relationships that have existed in the past.

Companies want to protect themselves against cases of abuse of power in this way. In general, it does not matter whether the relationships are described as consensual. Often, this is difficult to verify for outsiders, and legal proceedings in such cases quickly turn into a mudslinging match. Corporations want to avoid that. The #MeToo movement has certainly made companies more sensitive to this issue, although such cases were problematic even before.

Beziehung mit einer Angestellten: Steve Easterbrook, hier noch als McDonald's-Chef 2018

Relationship with an employee: Steve Easterbrook, still known as McDonald’s CEO in 2018

Foto: Scott Olson/ Getty Images

From the BP statement, it can be inferred that yes, according to BP’s representation, Looney violated corporate information obligations by having workplace relationships. However, there is no confirmed information about the circumstances surrounding this. And because the rules in such corporations are so strict, it is not possible to draw any conclusions about the possible nature of the relationships based on this knowledge.

The British newspaper „Guardian“ reports that details will surely come to light in the near future, and they have sources who are not surprised by the allegations. However, no information from the investigations mentioned by BP in May of last year has been leaked to the media. Even the British tabloids have not found anything.

Gibt es ähnliche Beispiele in anderen Unternehmen?

Schon öfter wurden Beziehungen in der Firma zum Karrierekiller für prominente Manager. Das klassische Beispiel ist McDonald’s. 2019 feuerte der Fastfood-Konzern seinen Vorstandschef Steve Easterbrook, weil dieser »eine einvernehmliche Beziehung mit einer Angestellten« hatte. Der frühere Vorstandschef von Intel, Brian Krzanich, trat 2018 zurück, nachdem das Unternehmen herausgefunden hatte, dass er »eine frühere Beziehung mit einer Intel-Angestellten« hatte.

Wird das in Deutschland auch so streng gehandhabt?

Overall, the rules for good corporate governance in Germany are not as strict as in the USA. Freedom and personal rights also matter for executives. However, with the emergence of the #MeToo movement, questions about potential abuse of power are being raised more frequently than before. Many German companies now include provisions in their own corporate governance rules that prohibit relationships with subordinates or their family members.

Sind in Deutschland Beispiele vorhanden?

Yes, but usually not with such radical consequences. For example, when it became known at the car manufacturer Daimler that the former head of personnel, Wilfried Porth, was in a relationship with the digital manager Sabine Scheunert – as her superior. Dieter Zetsche, who was the CEO at the time, took over parts of Porth’s responsibilities, and the couple remained in the company. Porth left in 2021 after twelve years on the board, while Scheunert left in April of this year. The couple is now married. There have been rumors of romantic relationships between board members and subordinates at some other DAX companies recently, but without any consequences.

The former editor-in-chief of the „Bild“ newspaper, Julian Reichelt, lost his position due to alleged misconduct towards interns, trainees, and employees – he has consistently denied these accusations. However, it seems that the evaluation of the case by the management of Springer Publishing was also influenced by the fact that Springer is currently expanding its business in the US and will be measured against their standards.

Could Looney’s resignation be related to his performance?

There is no mention of this in the company’s announcement, the specific trigger is the investigation into his relationships. However, it is possible that parts of the board of directors, who are responsible for deciding on the appointment of the CEO, were not satisfied with Looney recently: BP’s profit dropped by 70 percent in the previous quarter; nevertheless, the dividend for shareholders was increased. Looney also faced criticism for his own salary of twelve million pounds. However, his strategy to make the oil and gas company BP environmentally friendly and invest in renewable energies was particularly controversial.

It cannot be determined from an external perspective whether any of this played a role in the board of directors, and it is not particularly likely. It remains to be seen if the company’s strategy will dramatically change after the leadership change.

What is the future of BP?

As announced by the company on Tuesday, Murray Auchincloss, the CFO, will temporarily lead BP until a new CEO is found. The 52-year-old Canadian has navigated the company alongside Looney through the challenges of recent years, including the COVID-19 pandemic, a swift exit from Russia, an energy price shock, and global inflation. With him at the helm, there will not be a fundamental shift. The experts at US financial analyst Bernstein do not anticipate a radical change in strategy.

The board of directors of BP will have to confront the uncomfortable question of whether they may have been aware of rule violations by Looney for a longer period of time, writes the Guardian. And indeed, it is noticeable in BP’s statement that they claimed to have not identified any misconduct during the investigation last year: So why did the company demand an explanation from Looney?

What will happen to Bernard Looney?

In der BP-Mitteilung heißt es, dass die Untersuchung noch nicht abgeschlossen sei. Damit lässt sich der Konzern alle Möglichkeiten offen, abhängig davon, was vielleicht noch gefunden wird. Denkbar sind auch Gerichtsverfahren oder Entschädigungsforderungen. Explizit schreibt BP: »Es wurden noch keine Entscheidungen bezüglich der Vergütungszahlungen an Herrn Looney getroffen.«

Looney ist ein BP-Mann durch und durch. Der Ire, der auf einem Milchhof im County Kerry aufwuchs, hat nach dem Elektrotechnik-Studium in Dublin und dem Management-Master in Stanford bereits mit 21 Jahren bei dem Energieriesen angefangen – das war 1991. Wenn er sich von dem Fiasko erholt, muss er so gesehen ganz von vorne anfangen.

Mit Material von Reuters