The Men Who Run BP

LONDON -- In this series, I'm assessing the boardrooms of companies within the FTSE 100. Management can make all the difference to a company's success -- and thus its share price.

My first piece looked at the board of Barclays as it was thrust into the LIBOR rate-fixing scandal. Today I am looking at BP (LSE: BP.L  ) , which dealt with its own major crisis: the Gulf of Mexico disaster in 2010.

As BP maneuvers and negotiates with the multitude of interested parties over the future of its Russian joint venture, TNK-BP, shareholders will need to rely on a cool and collected board. BP's interest is estimated at around 20 billion pounds or so -- a quarter of the company's market cap -- and it accounts for 30% of BP's production.

Here are the key directors:

Director

Position

Carl-Henric Svanberg

Nonexecutive chairman

Robert Dudley

Chief executive

Brian Gilvary

Chief financial officer

Iain Conn

Chief executive, refining and marketing

Byron Grote

Vice president, corporate business activities

BP has four full-time executive directors, in contrast to many FTSE 100 companies, which have only two: a CEO and a finance director. In addition, it has 10 nonexecutive directors, making for a total board of 15. It includes two women. (This series is just barely misnamed as "The Men Who Run...")

Lightweights, or the right mates?
Carl-Henric Svanberg became chairman on Jan. 1, 2010. He is the former CEO of Ericsson and was seen by many as a relatively lightweight appointment. His predecessor, Peter Sutherland, was a former Irish attorney general and European Commissioner with an impressive CV of international business and NGO roles.

Svanberg was criticized for his low-key involvement in the Gulf of Mexico crisis control and for additionally taking on the chairmanship of Volvo in his native Sweden at the end of 2011. Some analysts thought it was a sign he would ease out of the BP role.

Bob Dudley took over the reins after Tony Hayward resigned in the wake of the Gulf oil spill. Many saw Hayward as working to fix the excessive cost-cutting and dictatorial style that characterized the era of his predecessor, Lord Browne -- an era which was identified as a root cause for BP's poor safety culture.

Dudley has been at his post just nine months, so it's too soon to assess his performance. But it looks as though his tenure will be characterized by big deals. A veteran American oil man who has worked extensively in Russia, he was credited with boosting TNK-BP's output by a third while serving as its CEO. And he wasn't shy of confrontation. In the sometimes wild and dangerous world of Russian big money, he was forced to leave the country, but he ran the JV from abroad for five months.

Brian Gilvary is a career BP man, in contrast to most FTSE 100 finance directors, who served time in the accounting profession. The other two executive directors have similar backgrounds. The nonexecs have a mixed background in business (other than oil), finance, and engineering.

I analyze management teams from five different angles to help work out a verdict. Here's my assessment:

Factor 

 Score (out of 5)

1. Reputation -- Management CVs and track record.
Svanberg may be lightweight for the job, but Dudley is impressive.

3

2. Performance -- Success at the company.
Early to judge, but Gulf crisis resolution and Russian deal look promising

3

3. Board composition -- Skills, experience, and balance.
Good mix of executive oil men and nonexecutive variety. FD not from the profession.

3

4. Remuneration -- Fairness of pay and link to performance.
Multimillion-pound payouts last year for "turning around company," but generally not seen as excessive.

3

5. Directors' holdings -- Compared to their pay.
Executive directors all have substantial holdings (more than 1 million pounds).

4

Overall, BP's board scores 16 out of 25 for me, which I think will put it in the top half of the FTSE 100.

The chairman perhaps doesn't have the weight or political connections that a global oil company needs. That could be a problem if things get sticky in Russia. And it would be reassuring to have a conventional FD. But overall, the board seems to be a group of people who know how to run the business.

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Tony does not own any shares mentioned in this article. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days.


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