Bernard Looney’s future as boss of BP was already under threat before bombshell revelations about his private life forced him to quit, The Mail on Sunday understands.
The 53-year-old stepped down abruptly last week after it emerged he misled the oil giant’s board over an earlier probe into his personal relationships with colleagues.
BP’s directors, led by chairman Helge Lund, have been accused of turning a blind eye to Looney’s ‘toxic’ behaviour after last year’s investigation cleared him of breaking BP’s code of conduct.
BP lifer: Bernard Looney took charge less than four years ago
But it has now emerged that the Irish businessman, who had given assurances about his behaviour, was living on borrowed time.
Two directors privately discussed replacing Looney on the fringes of a board meeting before the summer – months before the latest misconduct allegations that led to his downfall surfaced. The talks were prompted by questions around BP’s pursuit of a green energy strategy pioneered by Looney, rather than his personal behaviour.
Succession planning was not on the agenda at the board meeting and the discussions were informal, sources added.
However, when BP said last week that it had recently received ‘allegations of a similar nature’, Looney was forced to admit that he had not been ‘fully transparent’ with the board, prompting him to quit immediately.
BP has been rocked by the scandal. Finance boss Murray Auchincloss, who is himself in a long-term relationship with a colleague, has been appointed as BP’s interim chief executive until a permanent replacement is found.
Lund has ruled himself out as Looney’s successor. Looney was a BP lifer who took charge less than four years ago with a vow to reinvent the 114-year-old company. He laid out ambitious plans for it to achieve zero net emissions by 2050, and to invest billions in renewable projects such as solar and wind power.
This set BP apart from its rivals but irked many in the oil and gas industry and raised questions about BP’s prospects.
‘Looney made enemies,’ according to a leading investor, who declined to be named.
There are said to be growing divisions within BP about whether it should invest more in fossil fuels, though Lund has pledged to continue with its energy transition plan.
Another investigation is under way as BP faces calls to strip Looney of the £8million bonus he took home last year.
Soaring oil prices after Russia invaded Ukraine helped BP rake in record profits last year of £23billion.
He is the third boss to be ousted before his time. Lord Browne, who attempted to rebrand BP as ‘Beyond Petroleum’ in the early 2000s, left after The Mail on Sunday revealed he lied to a court about his relationship with another man.
His replacement Tony Hayward left after comments he made about the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. He said he wanted his ‘life back’ after spending months dealing with the fallout of the disaster, which killed 11.