Like previous student-led boycotts of tobacco companies and banks with operations in South Africa, the global fossil fuel divestment campaign is rumbling into action. With high profile backing from the Guardian newspaper and a student blockade of the university administration at Harvard this week, its supporters want to cripple the world’s oil and gas companies by striking where it hurts — at their finances.
The price of oil keeps on falling; the shale gas boom has reduced the price of natural gas in the US to a third of that in France; Germany has appealed to Sweden for its support in expanding two coal mines; and the EU’s effort to switch to clean energy is troubled. For companies wondering where to locate, the world has turned upside down.
No matter how good Total’s preparations, the death of its chief executive Christophe de Margerie in a plane crash late on Monday will have plunged the senior ranks of the French oil group into an emotional, logistical and governance nightmare.
When boards discuss succession planning, they often talk about it in jocular-morbid terms, typically debating “what happens if the CEO is run over by a bus?”. But when such sudden deaths occur, it often exposes just how poorly they have prepared for this type of emergency.
The US-based Conference Board, in a useful note for directors issued last year, pointed out that while three-quarters of S&P 500 companies surveyed in 2011 had succession plans in place, only 83 per cent of those had put in place an emergency succession component. Given that between 7 and 15 US public companies are hit by the sudden death of their chief executive in any given year, the group suggested the fact that a third of large companies had not considered emergency succession was simply not good enough. Read more
Ah, well. It was nice while it lasted for BP. Having gained one legal victory from appeals court judges in Louisiana in its battle to contain compensation for the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster, it has lost a broader case.
This round in BP’s effort to overturn the class action settlement it originally agreed – on the grounds that it has turned out to compensate many people and businesses that were not actually damaged by the spill – was thrown out by the Fifth Circuit on Friday.
The judges’ ruling (by a two-to-one majority) was simple enough. Read more
Life can be unfair and it often feels unfair even when it is not. Both JPMorgan Chase and UK energy companies such as Centrica know this feeling.
As Britain agrees to build the country’s first nuclear power plant in a generation, it is chastening to learn just how bullish everybody was about British nuclear energy on the eve of the opening of Calder Hall – the UK’s first nuclear power station – 57 years ago. Read more
Score one for the Louisiana legal system. BP has gained a notable, and rather unexpected, victory in the US appeals court in New Orleans over Patrick Juneau, the administrator of claims for damages relating to the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster.
BP went to court over the way Mr Juneau interpreted its settlement with businesses claiming compensation. It argued that he was allowing loose claims by businesses that happened to suffer a dip in revenues after the spill simply because of cashflow anomalies. Read more
Not since Barings financed the Louisiana Purchase on behalf of Thomas Jefferson in 1803 has a UK enterprise had so much money riding on the Gulf of Mexico state. It isn’t working out as well for BP as for the former merchant bank.
Ben van Beurden’s elevation to chief executive of Royal Dutch Shell doesn’t look that surprising to me. Granted, he wasn’t in the list of frontrunners, but a 55-year-old white Dutch male who has spent the past 30 years at the company is hardly a leftfield appointment. Read more
The saga of Florida’s “hanging chads”, which prolonged the disputatious US presidential race of 2000 well beyond polling day, also left corporate America hanging.
The likely end of BP’s tempestuous, yet profitable, partnership with a group of Russian oligarchs in TNK-BP is a moment to tot up the costs and benefits. Financially, it came out on top, but it certainly suffered along the way.
I’ve kept an interested eye on TNK-BP since writing about the energy venture in 2003, when it was formed. I judged then that it was worth it for BP to risk being stitched up by its new partners (the article is not online): Read more
It is bizarre to come back to London after seven years in New York to find the UK struggling to launch 4G high-speed mobile services and European companies lagging the US. “If we do nothing in Europe, all the innovation will fly away,” José María Álvarez-Pallete, chief operating officer of Spain’s Telefónica, told an FT conference this week.
If the US Department of Justice does push its accusations of gross negligence against BP to trial, disinterested observers can look forward to a detailed exploration of the oil company’s culture and management.
As I wrote in my first column as FT management editor in 2011, the report issued by Barack Obama’s national commission into the Deepwater Horizon disaster reads like a guide to the challenges of implementing cultural change, fighting complacency, running a collaborative “extended enterprise”, and managing risk. BP’s own 2010 accident investigation report, based on an investigation by Mark Bly, the group’s head of safety and operations, took a far narrower view. There are 69 references to culture in the national commission report, for instance; there are none in BP’s, and the only discussion of management is focused on specific operational issues. Read more
Royal Dutch Shell’s plan to reintroduce attendants to the forecourts of Britain’s petrol stations is bothering me.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m all in favour of better service, but, as everyone knows, such improvements – particularly the personal “shall I check your tyre pressures, madam?” service promised by Shell – cost money. I’ll drink a litre of unleaded if the Shell plan isn’t really based on selling more stuff. Read more
Jonathon Porritt, the environmental campaigner, believes “almost everybody in [your] organisation knows almost nothing about energy”.
So how should companies go about instilling the necessary energy awareness and zeal for change in employees – and, ultimately, suppliers and customers?
Mr Porritt – speaking during a panel I chaired on Wednesday at the Green Corporate Energy conference in London – laid out two paths: “command and control” or “we’re all in this together”. If you follow the first path, you place your faith in technology to regulate corporate energy use. Follow the second and you rely on users’ personal engagement and sense of responsibility. Read more
The latest tussle between BP and the billionaire oligarchs with whom it owns BP-TNK, its Russian oil joint venture – this time over BP’s wish finally to sell out – reminds me of the controversial way in which it started.
I wrote a column in 2003 arguing that, despite all of the risks of becoming partners with AAR in Russia, BP probably ought to do it. The rewards were worth the obvious prospect of being double-crossed. Read more
Sometimes the most obvious and tempting strategy is the stupidest. That applies to Argentina’s decision to seize a majority share in YPF, its biggest oil company, from Repsol, the Spanish energy group.
If mergers of equals are risky and hostile takeovers riskier, where does expropriation rank on the scale of management disruption?
Pretty high, I would guess. So, a day after Argentinian government officials walked into YPF’s headquarters with a list of senior Spanish executives they wanted to expel and an order to renationalise most of Repsol’s majority stake, I feel for the oil company’s staff. Read more
“Petrobras is a very successful company, completely male-dominated,” Maria das Graças Silva Foster told the FT’s Women at the Top Conference in November 2011. “But things are changing and it’s just question of time.”
A question of just two months, in fact. On Monday, the Brazilian company’s gas and energy director was named as the next chief executive of, in the FT’s words, “arguably Latin America’s most important company”.
Her promotion will also make her, by a long shot, the most prominent businesswoman in Latin America, and a symbol of the diversity policy of Brazil’s first woman president Dilma Rousseff – who used to chair Petrobras and is said to be close to Ms Graças Foster. The president appears to be lining up another Brazilian businesswoman - Luiza Helena Trajano Inácio Rodrigues, who heads the retailer Magazine Luiza – to become a minister for small business. But the number of top female CEOs in Brazil still looks low compared with, say, India or China. Read more