Looney accused of promoting BP women with whom he had undisclosed relationships

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The allegations that prompted Bernard Looney’s resignation from BP included an accusation that the chief executive promoted women with whom he had undisclosed past relationships, according to people familiar with the matter.

The romantic relationships with BP colleagues that are in question all allegedly occurred before Looney became chief executive in 2020 but had not been disclosed to the company, the people said.

Looney’s abrupt departure earlier this month has rocked the 113-year-old British energy group, raising questions over the number and nature of his workplace relationships as well as his conduct while at the helm of the company.

In a response to the Financial Times, BP said that appointments and promotions at the company follow “rigorous hiring and talent management processes” and that no employee, including the chief executive, is able to make unilateral appointments.

“These include detailed role descriptions, interviews with diverse hiring panels, third party assessments and diverse candidate slates,” BP said. “Promotions and appointments are not made solely at the behest of any single executive or individual.”  

When BP announced Looney’s departure on September 12, it said he had resigned after failing to disclose to the board “details of all relationships” during an earlier review. That inquiry followed an anonymous complaint about Looney’s romantic relationships received by the board in May 2022. The board investigated the allegations and found that none of the relationships had breached BP’s code of conduct.

During the 2022 review, the board held extensive discussions with Looney, in which he acknowledged four past relationships with colleagues and assured the board in writing he had nothing further to disclose, people with knowledge of that process said.

The most recent allegations were made in September by a female BP whistleblower and identified further relationships that Looney had not previously disclosed, people with knowledge of the complaint said.

Current and former BP employees, particularly those based at its London headquarters, have said that Looney’s history of romantic relationships with colleagues had been quietly discussed by staff for years. Looney joined BP in 1991 aged 21 and was married from 2017 to 2019.

The company’s publicly available code of conduct does not ban personal relationships with colleagues but does flag them as a potential conflict of interest.

Murray Auchincloss, who replaced Looney as interim chief, is in a relationship with a BP employee that was disclosed at the time Auchincloss became chief financial officer in 2020, BP has said.

BP declined to comment on the nature of the allegations against Looney and referred to its September statement. “We have no further comment on this beyond that statement and will continue to respect the privacy of a confidential process and of individuals.”

A spokesperson for Looney said the former BP chief executive was unavailable for comment.

BP has significantly increased the number of women serving in senior roles at the company in recent years. Seven of the 11 people on BP’s leadership team are women, up from two out of 13 people in 2019, while about a third of the top 300 leadership roles at the company are also held by women.

Auchincloss has told staff and investors that BP’s strategy remains unchanged. A process to appoint a permanent replacement for Looney is ongoing.

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