Bernard Looney gestures as he addresses the gathering on the second day of the three-day B20 Summit in New Delhi on August 26, 2023.
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Former BP CEO Bob Dudley on Tuesday said that Bernard Looney’s abrupt resignation last month came as a shock and denied any prior knowledge of the latter’s past personal relationships with colleagues.
Dudley, who worked at BP for 40 years and led the company as CEO for nearly a decade, said the British energy major would soon find a suitable successor and that Looney’s departure would likely not impact the firm’s strategy. Looney succeeded Dudley, who stood down as BP CEO in 2020.
Looney resigned with immediate effect on Sept. 12 after less than four years on the job. He informed the company that he was not “fully transparent in his previous disclosures” about relationships with colleagues before becoming CEO, BP said.
Citing anonymous sources familiar with the matter, the Financial Times reported that Looney had promoted women with whom he had undisclosed past relationships, adding that his relevant romantic relationships with BP colleagues took place before his promotion to CEO. CNBC was unable to independently verify the reports.
“It’s a shock to the organization. It came out of nowhere, and I think that the company has great assets, great people,” Dudley told CNBC at an oil and gas conference Tuesday, the Abu Dhabi International Progressive Energy Congress.
“It is not about one person, and it won’t be long before there will be replacements in there, and the company will do fine, because it is a really strong company with a wide spectrum to its portfolio,” he added.
Asked whether there was a valid accusation that he might have known more about the situation, given his time mentoring Looney, Dudley replied, “I didn’t know anything about it and neither did the deputy CEO and others and the board. Should have I known? I don’t know. Maybe I was a bit naïve, but I had no clue. No clue at all.”
Looney’s surprise departure has raised questions about the outlook for BP, although current and former executives have insisted that the firm’s medium- and longer-term strategy remains the same.
“Things at BP are OK. We move forward as you would expect, despite the change that happens,” interim BP CEO Murray Auchincloss said Monday during a CNBC-moderated ADIPEC panel session.
Auchincloss said that the company remains “firmly committed” to the outlook it laid out earlier in the year, emphasizing that “the strategy is not an embodiment of a single individual, it is the embodiment of a management team and a board.”
Murray Auchincloss, interim chief executive officer of BP Plc, speaks during a panel session at the Abu Dhabi International Petroleum Exhibition and Conference (ADIPEC) in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, on Monday, Oct. 2, 2023.
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“Look, we laid out an update to the strategy in February, seven months ago, that’s a strategy that’s endorsed by the management team, endorsed by the board. One person leaving does not change the strategy,” Auchincloss said.
“It’s focused on providing energy today as cleanly as we possibly can,” he added. “On the transition growth engine, it’s unchanged. We have five of them. We in particular like biofuels, both sustainable aviation fuel and biogas.”
Dudley — who now chairs the Oil and Gas Climate Initiative, an organization backed by BP, Saudi Aramco, Exxon Mobil and other Big Oil firms — echoed Auchincloss’ view. He said BP’s strategy would likely remain “business as usual.”
“It was a very aggressive strategy, and I think the world changed when Russia invaded Ukraine. The need for security of supply changed everybody’s views on this,” Dudley said, when asked whether Looney is on the right track, particularly regarding decarbonization.
“Before, it was clean, affordable energy, which meant reducing carbon however you could. After the invasion, look at Europe’s energy flows, no pipelines of gas essentially and shortages around the world,” he added. “You can’t run a big energy company and ignore the facts of the world, so he backed off to a degree on that and to me that made a lot of sense.”
Shares of London-listed BP are up 9.5% year to date.
— CNBC’s Jesse Pound contributed to this report.