Irishman Bernard Looney named as chief executive of BP

Kerryman to succeed Bob Dudley when he steps down from oil giant early next year

Irishman Bernard Looney has been named as incoming chief executive of oil giant BP, the second time this week that an Irish person has taken over at a leading British company.

BP on Friday said it was appointing the Kerry native to succeed Bob Dudley when he retires next year after leading the company back to growth from near collapse in 2010.

He became one of the youngest-ever heads of BP’s exploration business under a management shake-up in 2016, and was one of a small number of top non-US executives charged with steering efforts by the oil giant to explore for business in Iran without breaching US sanctions that same year.

Following his appointment as head of upstream operations, the Irishman spearheaded BP’s drive to improve performance through cost-cutting and digitalisation, as the sector grappled with the aftermath of the 2014 collapse in oil prices.


He has led BP through one of its periods of fastest growth in oil and gas production, with output rising up by about 20 per cent since 2016 with the launch of more than 20 new major projects around the world and the acquisition of BHP’s portfolio of US shale assets this year for $10.5 billion (€9.6 billion) in the company’s biggest deal in three decades.

As chief executive he will be charged with continuing to adapt BP to the transition to lower carbon energy as pressure from investors to meet climate change targets grow.

“Bernard is a terrific choice to lead the company next,” said Mr Dudley in a statement.

“He knows BP and our industry as well as anyone but is creative and not bound by traditional ways of working. I have no doubt that he will thoughtfully lead BP through the transition to a low-carbon future.”

Kenmare roots

Mr Looney grew up on a dairy farm in Ashgrove, near Kenmare, but now lives in London, where he has spent most of his career. He joined BP in 1991 as a drilling engineer and worked in operational roles in the North Sea, Vietnam and the Gulf of Mexico, including as drilling engineer on the discovery of the giant Thunder Horse field.

After a period in BP Alaska, he became head of the group chief executive's office, working directly for BP chief executives Lord Browne and then Tony Hayward.

“[He] is a safe pair of hands for shareholders and the younger generation and would know the corporate politics well,” one associate said.

In a note to investors, Barclays described Mr Looney as “the man to win over the millennials”.

The Kerryman, who has a degree in electrical engineering from University College Dublin and a master's in management from Stanford Graduate School of Business, is a fellow of the Royal Academy of Engineering, a fellow of the Energy Institute, and a mentor in the FTSE 100 cross-company mentoring executive programme.

He becomes the second Irishman to take over the reins at a leading British company this week after Cork accountant Ken Murphy was named as chief executive of Tesco, where he succeeds Dave Lewis. Additional reporting: Reuters

Charlie Taylor

Charlie Taylor

Charlie Taylor is a former Irish Times business journalist