Highly successful chief executive of the British oil company, BP, 1991-2007 (pictured right).
He was criticized for poor safety standards that led to a fire at its American Texas City refinery in 2005,
killing 15 people.
Why was he a successful leader at BP?
His aim was to satisfy the needs of BP’s customers.
He believes that business success requires:
“mutual advantage” (i.e. mutually beneficial relationships with stakeholders like
customers, employees, suppliers and society).
2. Focusing on the future
His Romanian mother taught him to:
think of the future.
forget the past (epitomized by her survival in Auschwitz, pictured right, where all her
family were killed).
He was constantly looking for new and better strategies for BP, like turning it into a green energy company.
He was the first boss or an oil company to accept its contribution to climate change, and did something about it with BP’s slogan
“beyond petroleum”, investing heavily in alternative energies and fuels like ethanol and wind
and solar power.
He inspired his employees to do great things- how?
Giving them clear, simple but challenging aims.
b) his example of excellence
He was totally dedicated to BP (having never married) and had very high standards.
c) empowering people
He gave employees, and BP’s businesses (like exploration), responsibility for achieving
Anyone who couldn’t achieve them had to tell him or another top manager immediately. His rule was “no
d) support and learning
He was a great believer in teams where managers and employees meet regularly to:
discuss problems and solutions.
learn from each other.
His rule was: “if you’re in trouble, ask for help”.
He particularly learned from the failure of BP’s autocratic chief executive, Bob
Horton (pictured right), and the success of Horton’s democratic and likeable successor, David
Simon (pictured right below), .
But he failed to learn from a big fire at BP’s Grangemouth refinery in Scotland in 2000, which led to the
disastrous explosion at Texas City in 2005.
He always wanted BP to be a “distinctive company”, i.e. do things better than its competitors,
particularly in its main businesses, oil and gas.
He reduced BP's dependence on its gas and oil fields in Alaska, the North Sea and the Middle East by expanding
into Russia, the Gulf of Mexico and Angola.
He made BP into an international company, which was successful worldwide. So he changed its name from British
Petroleum to BP.
6. Intelligent and cost conscious
He’s got a great brain for finance and finding the cheapest way to discover oil and
His rule was “never spend money you don’t have”.
He paid close attention to relevant detail, because he realized the difference between success
and failure is so small.
His training and experience as an engineer (he studied physics at Cambridge University,
pictured right) was also extremely useful.
7. Clear communicator
He told people clearly and concisely what they needed to do.
He writes using a fountain pen, because it’s relatively difficult and so makes him more economical with
8. Lover of change and improvement
He loved change and realized that BP had to quickly adapt to changing circumstances.
He inspired his employees to change, too, so that BP could keep on improving.
9. Work and relaxation
Apart from his love of cigars, poetry and the arts, he is a workaholic who often starts work at 4 a.m.!
He benefited from rapidly rising oil and gas prices.
He was very tough, firing to either cut costs or punish poor performance.
He demanded maximum effort from everyone and closely reviewed the performance of BP’s major businesses every
month in a 3½ hour session.
Key quote on organizational
The purpose of business is to satisfy human needs.
Key quote on corporate social
A good, successful business is part of society and exists to meet society’s needs.
Key quote on
Real productivity comes from the combination of experience and imagination.