Britain’s press has shot down some big game over the years. The resignation of the boss of BP, an oil firm and the country’s biggest company, might be expected to take pride of place in the trophy cabinet. But the decision by John Browne to leave his job, on Tuesday May 1st, with immediate effect after courts lifted an injunction that stopped a newspaper publishing of details about his private life, brings a sad end to a career already nearing a conclusion. There seems little for anyone to revel in.
Lord Browne had become, in any case, a spent force at the company he joined in 1966. The great successes of his 12-year tenure at the top were behind him. He created the industry’s first “super-major” by merging BP with Amoco.
He also persuaded Russia to allow BP to buy half of a domestic oil company—a trick no other foreign firm has been able to pull off. And as BP expanded he ruthlessly kept costs under control, so profits rose.
In the end it was a personal failing—lying in court—that brought him down. A former lover, Jeff Chevalier, had gone to Associated Newspapers, publishers of the Daily Mail, with details of their four-year affair.
Lord Browne, shy and private by nature, applied for a High Court injunction to prevent the reporting of details of his personal life. During a legal battle that went to the House of Lords it emerged that BP’s boss had lied in court about an aspect of the case in order to obtain the injunction. In his resignation statement he admitted that “This account, prompted by my embarrassment and shock at the revelations, is a matter of deep regret”. His decision to lie was brought about by his fear of the reaction to the revelations about his private life.