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Thesis & Antithesis

A critical perspective on energy, international politics & current affairs

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Location: Washington, D.C.

greekdefaultwatch@gmail.com Natural gas consultant by day, blogger on the Greek economy by night. Trained as an economist and political scientist. I believe in common sense and in data, and my aim is to offer insight written in language that is clear and convincing.

30 November 2005

Lord John Browne

Yesterday, I had the chance to listen to Lord John Browne, chief executive of British Petroleum. There is a variety of issues that deserve comment, both about BP’s strategy in general and Lord Browne in particular. But I want to focus on one idea instead: what impressed me was how Lord Browne contrasted with the oil executives that appeared in the Senate a few weeks ago to testify on and defend their corporate profits.

If anything, BP understands the role of communications—the need to explain a “big business” in simple and comprehensible terms. Lord Browne was masterly in that. If I can paraphrase him (this came in Q&A): most people understand small businesses, he said; but when it comes to businesses with 100,000 employees (BP employed 102,900 at Dec 2004), it is harder for the public to understand what goes on. Companies need to explain what they do and why they do it. They need to be cognizant of their cycle of responsibility, a group that involves employees as well as those affected by the company, and reach out to them.

It is not possible to make all this money, Lord Browne said, without doing something right, without offering goods and services that people want. A few weeks ago I scorned at the various calls on big oil to make sacrifices (14 Nov 05). It was rewarding to see the chief executive of Europe’s biggest company be equally unequivocal about the merits of the world oil market and simultaneously understanding of the role of his company in the world—a chief executive willing to explain the oil business without being smug or defensive.

It is a pity we did not see Lord Browne in those Senate hearings.

References:
Yesterday’s speech: John Browne, “Energy Security: Responding to the challenges,” Speech at Brookings Institution, 29 Nov 05 (link); and an article on climate change: John Browne, “Beyond Kyoto,” Foreign Affairs, July / August 2004 (link)

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