yEn Brown used to be a lateral thinker in the oil industry. It’s been 25 years since the former BP chief delivered the landmark speech at his alma mater at Stanford University, where he became the first Big Oil leader to link hydrocarbon emissions and climate change. He has been denounced by many in his industry. “I was told I left the church of the oil industry; I didn’t realize there was one,” he says dryly.
Now Lord Brown of Madingley is once again at odds with his former peers and agrees to Rishi Sunak’s unexpected tax on North Sea oil and gas operators to fund a £15 billion home living bill. Bernard Looney, BP’s current president, is so clumsy with public controversy that the tax has been dubbed “Looney Levy”.
“It’s true and true: These awards go to the nation, not the companies,” Brown said. “It has levied unexpected taxes on me from many jurisdictions in many places.”
However, the Crossbench counterpart warns: “The profits should be taxed, but the costs should be thought out very carefully as you should be able to write off your capital in the future as well as your operating expenses. And design a system that allows you to do all this right – That’s always been complicated. If you add an unexpected dividend tax, we just have to be careful how we do it.”
He remembers the lucky tax cuts of the early 1980s that led to companies paying more than 100% in taxes. “The government took a long time to regulate and didn’t trust anyone to tell them the price of oil, so they put the tax higher than it was. So there are such questions: the cost need to think. But I think it’s right to help people with their bills.”
His timely transformation into the cause of climate change has been met with some skepticism. It involved a failed renaming of BP to Beyond Petroleum, which some have dubbed Greenwashing. The man dubbed “Sun King” by the financial press had been at BP for 41 years, the last 12 years as CEO until 2007. His own deals have cemented the oil giant’s standing in the global game – including its controversial expansion into Russia – with earning millions in salaries and bonuses a year. He’s busy these days with his new venture, the green investor BeyondNetZero.
the age 74
family Successful development of a new partnership.
education King’s School, Eli; MSc in Physics from St John’s College, Cambridge; and an MBA from Stanford University, California.
Pay “Today I am very self-sufficient.”
Recent holidays Venice, “my favorite place on earth” (where he has a second home).
Best advice he got “My father once told me to get a real job. As a result, I joined BP as an intern and the rest is history.”
Biggest Job Mistake “He’s never come out like gay before.”
Overused word “I love the word ‘after.” My first book was Beyond Business and the climate growth company I co-founded and now run is called BeyondNetZero.
how to relax “Ballet, Theatre, Opera, Art. And interesting people and interesting places.”
WWe meet at Browne’s home in Chelsea while Sunak is presenting his small budget. His personal library is filled to the ceiling with volumes from all periods of art. A set of Braun’s portraits by famous German photographer Wolfgang Tillmanns hangs at the top of a spiral staircase. There’s Mottled Brown, reflected in the mirror, and Brown standing by a cutting board in front of him is half slices of crusty bread (“I can’t even cook” laughs). He is of slight build, wears a pink shirt and blue jacket, and wears tortoiseshell glasses.
First, a framed photo of Brown’s late mother clutching a bright red purse. It played a major role in his career: Brown claimed that he kept his homosexuality a secret for decades to protect his mother, an Auschwitz survivor.
He came out of the “deep treasury”. last Sunday, who posted a kiss and tell from his Brazilian girlfriend Jeff Chevalier, an ex-escort. The episode led to his resignation from BP. Does he have any regrets? “Mt. I wish I had gone out earlier. My mom’s advice [was] Don’t make yourself into a minority… Don’t tell anyone a secret because they will use it against you. These are important things a Holocaust survivor says to his son. He was afraid of being “outcast”.
He found that Brown had lied about how he met the Chevalier, telling his attorney that they met while jogging in Battersea Park rather than on the Internet. “That was a stupid lie. Such a terrible miscalculation.” What would he say to Chevalier now? “I wish him a good day. I have no grudge.”
However, Brown says his shameful departure from BP opened up new opportunities for him. “No one was going to offer me a job at a public company, and I didn’t want to ask…there was definitely a silver lining.”
This was followed by 15 years of presidency, government work, and administrative positions. His cultural roles have included Tate Theatre, Non-Profit Theatre, Donmar Warehouse, and now the Courtauld Institute of Art. He’s turned writer and is a few thousand words deep in his latest work, based on a podcast series related to the Cop26 climate conference.
His commercial positions have included the board of directors of Chinese tech company Huawei, which he left when the UK followed the US into blocking its operations (“technically, what they were doing was great”). Then there was the Fracker Cuadrilla. The government has opened the door to technology rift since the energy crisis, but Brown says: “We could have provided the gas supply, which would have helped a lot, but maybe it’s too late.”
His primary position is now President of BeyondNetZero. He set up the company — led by Lance Uggla, who founded research firm IHS Markit — last year to invest in companies that help manage and measure emissions, decarbonize assets, improve energy efficiency and reduce pollution to accelerate the circular economy. So far, interests have ranged from a solar energy specialist working in sub-Saharan Africa to a planned vertical farm project in America.
But does that make him a defector from the oil industry? He laughs, remembering the nickname “tree hugger” for his support of renewable energy.
Shell faced demonstrations at its shareholder meeting last week, with protesters claiming it was not investing quickly enough in renewable energy projects. How can oil and gas chiefs effectively balance old and new technologies? “People will be on the lookout for greenwashing at any moment: If you say ‘we’re going to spend a billion dollars,’ they will say ‘spend two billion dollars.’ Finding the balance is an ongoing debate.”
After political protests, BP pledged to relinquish the Russian assets it had amassed during Brown’s tenure. Should he have brought BP to Russia? In 2003 Putin paid a state visit to Britain. We had a banquet with the Queen and Prince Philip. He was seen as a reformer who would open Russia and serve security. For more than a decade, Brown met frequently with Putin and resisted his calls for the Russians to give the majority of what was then BP’s joint venture with TNK. “It was like a glass wall, very difficult to read. With no expressions of admiration or hatred that you would expect from a trained spy.”
Most recently, Brown worked with LetterOne, which is controlled by oligarch Michael Friedman, who is now under sanctions. Perhaps the West should have seen Russia’s deadly advance coming? “It seems obvious in hindsight, but it’s like going out into the street and asking people, ‘Why didn’t you cash your ISA three months ago? It sure was obvious.'”
Brown remains attached to BP and eats with Looney infrequently (they take turns pushing). He doesn’t want to become a pretentious figure for Sir Alex Ferguson as he hangs out in the store. He says Looney “did a very good job of strategizing it piece by piece.” Looney was one of the last “turtles” of Brownie – eager helpers for senior positions.
Tony Hayward, Brown’s associate and immediate successor, was in charge during the deadly 2010 oil spill at the Deepwater Horizon in the Gulf of Mexico. Brown was at a hotel in Dallas, Texas that day: “It was a tragedy. I was watching TV… It was really an existential threat to BP.” Five years ago, Brown witnessed the exhumation of bodies after the Texas City refinery explosion. He was accused of promoting a culture led to Deepwater Horizon.” Everyone at BP says it’s not true. This was only pure speculation.”
Brown continues its mission of renewable energy. He concludes: “We are on the brink of an industrial revolution if, like me, you believe that everything we do must be geared towards reducing emissions in order to get to net zero. The cause is not so much the effect on the planet as it is the people. If we allow temperatures to explode, We are likely to see a very large amount of migration and death due to floods and heat stress on agricultural crops. It is about saving at least one foundation of existence for all of humanity.”
There is no quiet sunset for the Sun King’s turbulent walk.