LONDON – Global energy giant BP, one of Britain’s biggest and most recognizable companies, is scurrying to find a new chief executive after CEO Bernard Looney became the latest corporate leader to step down amid questions about his personal conduct.
Among the most crucial questions facing the company’s board is whether to recruit a leader who will maintain BP’s goal of eliminating net carbon emissions by 2050 as the oil industry struggles to meet climate commitments.
Looney, 53, resigned Tuesday after he accepted that he was not “fully transparent” in his disclosures about past relationships with colleagues. He will be replaced by Chief Financial Officer Murray Auchincloss on an interim basis.
BP conducted an internal review last year after receiving allegations about personal relationships between Looney and other company employees.
During that review, Looney disclosed a “small number” of relationships that occurred before he became CEO in February 2020, and the oil and gas giant found that there had been no breach of company rules, BP said in a statement.
The company said it recently began a second investigation after receiving more allegations of a similar nature. Looney resigned after accepting that “he was not fully transparent in his previous disclosures,” BP said.
“The company has strong values and the board expects everyone at the company to behave in accordance with those values,” BP said. “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.”
BP said no decisions have been made regarding remuneration payments to Looney. He received 10.03 million pounds ($12.5 million) in salary, bonuses and other benefits in 2022 — more than doubling his pay package from the year before.
BP shares fell as much as 1.8% when the London Stock Exchange opened Wednesday. The stock was down 0.6% at 519.71 pence in early morning trading.
Looney had spent his entire career at BP after joining the company as an engineer in 1991. After rising to head oil and gas production, he took over from former CEO Bob Dudley at the beginning of 2020.
Looney led the company through the coronavirus pandemic and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, both of which caused disruption for energy markets. The war, however, also drove energy companies' profits to record highs as oil and natural gas prices soared, drawing outcry as a cost-of-living crisis driven by high energy bills squeezed consumers.
Looney also faced increasing pressure to speed up BP’s transition to renewable energy as the U.N., scientists and activists sounded increasingly dire warnings about climate change.
Soon after becoming CEO, Looney set a goal of achieving net zero emissions by 2050 — in line with goals then adopted by the U.K. government. He also promised to increase the amount that BP invested in low-carbon projects tenfold by 2030, winning praise from the environmental group Greenpeace.
But BP was criticized earlier this year when the company reported record annual earnings of $27.7 billion and watered down plans to cut oil and gas production in the shorter term.
The personal conduct of top executives has come under increasing scrutiny since allegations of sexual abuse leveled against disgraced movie producer Harvey Weinstein triggered the “Me Too” movement in 2017.
Former Barclays CEO Jess Staley was ousted in 2021 amid concerns about his ties to the late sex offender Jeffrey Epstein. Jeff Shell, CEO of U.S. media company NBCUniversal, stepped down this year after admitting to an inappropriate relationship with a woman in the company.