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BP needs a chairman

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BP needs a chairman

Published: June 25 2008 09:41 | Last updated: June 25 2008 20:23

Situation (still) vacant: Two or three days a week. Salary half a million quid a year. Must be willing to travel. Knighthood optional. Background in natural resources helpful. Experience of sticky situations in, say, Moscow a distinct advantage.

Peter Sutherland’s well-telegraphed departure from the chairmanship of BP, effective next March, has opened a market in speculation as to his successor. Anna Mann, the doyenne of executive search, has a shortlist of external candidates in single figures, but needs to get this one right. A solution to the stand-off at TNK-BP, the company’s Russian joint venture, depends on it.

BP’s 14-strong board – including chief executive Tony Hayward and three other executives – is not stuffed with combustible characters. The candidate must prove his worth outside the confines of the St James’s Square head office. He must be an A-grade schmoozer, at ease in the company of presidents. And he should not have too much on his plate. Mr Sutherland spread himself thin in his 11-year reign.

That might count against one strong contender on paper, Sir John Parker, who is juggling the chairmanship of the National Grid with numerous other commitments. Other possibles with more time on their hands are Chip Goodyear, ex-chief executive of BHP Billiton, and Rio Tinto chairman Paul Skinner, but each has drawbacks. Mr Skinner, 63, may not relish a job with an expected term of six to nine years, and is too imbued with the Shell culture, in which he marinated for more than four decades. Mr Goodyear, 50, has never chaired a board and may be a threat to Mr Hayward, 51.

The chairmanship of Britain’s second-largest company should represent the pinnacle of a career. But the role needs to be sold aggressively; while Russia is unresolved, it seems to offer more downside than upside. Two years into her search, Ms Mann may need to cast the net wider.

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