Bernard Looney has risen through the ranks of BP, becoming chief executive officer 28 years after joining the company as a graduate engineer. He has most recently run our Upstream business worldwide, becoming known as an authentic and progressive leader with a track record of delivering safe and reliable operations. He now takes on the top job at a pivotal moment for the industry, with a mission to help BP navigate the rapidly changing energy landscape.
He’ll share a new corporate purpose as well as an ambition for BP in the coming days. In the meantime, find out more about Bernard, his background and career, and four issues ̶ beyond emphasizing safety as a core value ̶ that will be early priorities.
When Bernard posted on Instagram for the first time last month, it wasn’t only in pursuit of ‘likes’ – in fact, just the opposite. He wants to engage directly with society, especially younger people and those who disagree with BP.
“I know a lot of people have views on oil and gas companies and our role in the energy transition,” he says in one early post. “I would like to use this platform to talk openly about that and explain the role BP can play, as I believe we share the same concerns and hopes.”
He’s spent just as much time listening offline, too. In the past few weeks, he’s sat down with investors, partners, policymakers, NGOs, academics, and the media all around the world.
And he’s clear that listening isn’t a one-time exercise – it will be the default operating mode. “We will listen, and we will engage more – including with our critics,” he says.
Bernard joined BP in 1991 straight from university
Bernard Looney, BP CEO
Listening is only worth doing, however, if it’s followed by action. Recognizing the need for a swifter shift to a low carbon economy, Bernard says: “We know the world is not on a sustainable path. We want a rapid transition. Society has to deliver the Paris goals.”
Bernard has already driven change while in charge of our oil and gas operations, prompting BP to take an industry-leading position on methane detection methods, and delivering sustainable emissions reductions of almost 3 million tonnes CO2 equivalent in the past two years.
Bernard’s firm belief is that BP can play a leading role in helping the world to re-engineer the energy system, and that a 70,000-strong workforce experienced in solving complex challenges can make a vital contribution.
“Very few companies have both the skill and will to drive the real system change that the world needs and wants to see. BP is one of them,” he says.
Growing up in County Kerry, Ireland, Bernard was the youngest of five siblings and the first member of his family to go to university.
His work ethic is the product of formative years spent on his family’s dairy farm. Early thoughts of following his friends into the building trade were quashed by his mother, who pushed him towards education.
He credits his schooling and the opportunities he’s had at BP with helping shape his outlook. He says it drives him to create a respectful, inclusive and diverse workplace, where everyone is welcome and where success is determined by merit.
In a recent interview, he said: “People who are not supportive or aligned with that agenda; they don’t belong in BP.”
And he’s made progress. As Upstream CEO, Bernard’s top regional team was one-third women and one-third from outside the US and UK.
In Bernard’s view, that’s just as it ought to be; a global business like BP should be run by global talent, and initiatives to bring the world’s brightest to BP get his full support. “Expect me to push that agenda hard,” he told his top team recently.
Our people’s health and safety is of upmost importance to Bernard. In the past year, his willingness to talk openly about mental health issues on BP’s internal social media platform has encouraged many others to share their own experiences. From stress to suicide, no topic has been off limits as he has pushed hard to destigmatize mental health struggles.
One of Bernard's passions is ensuring BP is a diverse, inclusive and respectful workplace
Bernard has spearheaded BP’s drive to digitize its upstream operations. Along with increased productivity and capital efficiency, new technology has the power to keep costs down, but it has the secondary advantage of also making BP ‘cool’, according to Bernard.
In his office, Bernard has a large touchscreen on one wall, where data from all BP’s oil and gas operations is streamed in real time, giving a picture of performance and safety around the globe.
An algorithm built by a BP geophysicist uncovered untapped resources in the Gulf of Mexico, while drones, crawlers and robots support safe operations at BP sites worldwide.
“Millions of data points emanate from our facilities every month. The stuff we do in the digital space is extraordinary,” he says.
His push for innovation and new ways of working is supported by his digital ‘reverse mentor', Connor Tann, a young recruit to the company with a passion for data science and a Master’s in Experimental and Theoretical Physics.
“The intent to make BP better is deep in my DNA,” Bernard says.