Former BP CEO Browne: 4 Ways to Help Survive an Energy Crisis


lordbrowne.jpgHere’s something to chew on following your 4-day weekend of successive holiday meals: Recently departed BP CEO John Browne gave a talk at BusinessWeek’s European Leadership Forum in London this weekend and the magazine reprinted the talk in its entirety. Browne is lauded as the first person to have, as head of a prominent oil company, publicly made the link between fossil fuels and climate change. He is also commended with having led BP’s early move into renewables via solar, wind, hydrogen and combined-cycle gas turbine power generation.

Even after leaving BP (BP) in May under controversial circumstances, Browne, now an energy investor at private equity firm Riverstone Holdings, is still focusing on alternative energy. “[W]e are entering another period of energy dislocation today — and it is probably the most significant moment of change I’ve seen in my career so far,” he is quoted as saying.

He has some interesting thoughts on how industry can survive this era of “energy dislocation.” Browne names four “beacons” or “fixed points that help us to navigate” the way:

  • Flexibility: He says industry should be able to adapt, respond quickly to change, be able to maintain “a portfolio of options” and know “which to scale up and which to shut down — and when.” He compares the fundamental changes happening in the energy industry to those that took place in the telecom world. He says the companies that will survive aren’t betting on one technology option.
  • Collaborate: Companies “cannot respond alone,” and we need cooperation between businesses, governments, scientists and NGOs, he says.
  • Energy efficiency: He says energy efficiency has “a starring role” in the future of energy and is “the only really certain bet we can make.”
  • Making carbon mainstream: “Carbon will become a mainstream economic cost for business in the coming years,” Browne predicts, and businesses need to start planning for that now.

While he is credited with turning around BP, Browne didn’t exactly leave a spotless legacy in his wake. In the last few months, BP has posted lackluster earnings, agreed to pay a $50 million fine to settle a refinery blast criminal case and more than $300 million in connection with charges its traders tried to corner the propane market, and said it will eliminate about 10,000 jobs through the sale of most of its U.S.-owned or operated convenience stores, part of a wide-ranging restructuring led by new CEO, Tony Hayward.

And the company, which fashions itself as “Beyond Petroleum,” appears to be pulling back from its clean energy perch, too.

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