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Financial Times: The man from Amoco could replace Browne

By Carola Hoyos and Kate Burgess
Published: September 20 2006 03:00 | Last updated: September 20 2006 03:00

The spotlight has fallen on the role of Lord Browne, BP’s statesman-like leader, as investors look to him for accountability on its mounting troubles.

One investor concludes: “Ultimately the buck stops with John Browne: he sets the agenda and has created the culture.”

Increasingly, however, thoughts are turning to the question of who will succeed him as chief executive when he retires at the end of 2008.

The consensus both inside and outside BP remains that the new chief executive will be an insider.

However, all BP’s top candidates except for one have some links to the company’s recent North American and Alaskan difficulties, and the events of the past 18 months may have changed the prospects of all five leading contenders.

John Manzoni, head of refining and marketing, is responsible for the Texas City operation, while Tony Hayward, head of exploration and production and the top candidate, has ultimate responsibility for Alaska and the Thunder Horse platform that has suffered delays.

His deputy, Andrew Inglis, who leads BP’s new development, is directly responsible for Thunder Horse, one of BP’s most important new ventures.

Another contender, Iain Conn, is an executive director whose role includes areas as distant as Asia and Europe but also gives him responsibility for all of BP’s internal operations, as well as board-level responsibility for safety.

Investors are scrutinising the robustness of BP’s operations following the US problems and BP is about to launch a root-and-branch review of them.

None of the men, nor Lord Browne, travelled to Washington to testify at recent Congressional hearings. That was left to BP’s North American managers. Meanwhile, Lord Browne and Mr Manzoni are resisting calls by victims’ lawyers to testify in a damages case due to go to court next month.

The only man untouched by BP’s troubles is also not a BP veteran.

Robert Dudley, the president and chief executive of TNK-BP, the Russian joint venture, came from Amoco, which BP acquired in 1998. He has deftly managed one of the most difficult parts of BP’s empire, dodging Russian political hurdles that have impeded competitors such as Royal Dutch Shell and Total of France.

His experience is understood to be seen by the board as a strength.

His supporters had lamented his far-flung location as a drawback, not only because he lacked exposure to BP’s London-based investors but also because he would have less contact than the internal candidates now being observed more closely by Peter Sutherland, BP’s chairman and the man who will influence their fate.

But what was once a drawback now could be seen as a blessing, as concerned investors demand to question BP’s executives and its board to determine whether the company’s problems are systemic.

BP’s most favoured candidate as chief executive could turn out to be a man from Amoco.

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