Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Disarming Honesty of a Titan of Industry

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Disarming Honesty of a Titan of Industry

Article excerpt

Byline: GEORGE TREFGARNE

THE GLASS CLOSET: WHY COMING OUT IS GOOD business by John Browne (WH Allen, PS16.99)

SEXUALITY lies near the core of individual identity and that is certainly true of John, now Lord Browne, onetime chief executive of BP. His paranoia that his homosexuality should be repressed, or at least hidden, is fundamental to understanding how this 5ft 4in intellectual, who lived with his mother, came to rise to the top of the oil industry, how he transformed BP into one of the great British businesses of the past half-century, and how he fell from grace. He has also bravely made it the subject of his latest book, a personal plea that both companies and individuals should be more accepting and supportive of gay and lesbian people.

Like so many gays who come out dramatically, the real surprise with Browne was that he believed it was something his friends and colleagues did not already know and accept. Just about everybody who knew him guessed Browne was gay -- and that he consequently often used to bring his mother Paula to events. The concern was that this was plainly a side of his character with which he himself wrestled, unsuccessfully.

He admits that, for decades, he was a very lonely person who threw himself into work. BP became his life. It was frequently the case that he would have nothing much to do at weekends or during holidays and so he would work some more or rely on business acquaintances for friendship.

Even when he acquired an apartment in Venice, a stay there would be used to conjure up new business ideas. He is a polymath, and perhaps while gazing at the perfection of St Mark's Square, he imagined his company into a work of art of his own.

His achievements were many. During his tenure the market value of BP quintupled. He made large acquisitions in America and signed a major joint venture in Russia. By constructing the BTC pipeline he transformed Azerbaijan and enabled the West to access Caspian oil without going via Russia. He was the first international chief executive to admit the issue of climate change and he lavished sponsorship on the British Museum, the Tate and the Royal Opera House. …

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