LEADER: How it all went badly wrong for Browne

Lord Browne of British Petroleum was a corporate PR icon, until 18 months ago at least. In PRWeek's recently published Power Book, many of the UK's top communicators cited Browne as their most admired businessman.

He gained admiration for shifting BP's reputation from that of grubby oil producer to a modern, outward-facing organisation - as well as encouraging the industry to look favourably on alternative energy sources.

But since 2005 BP's - and indeed the Sun King's - reputation dimmed somewhat. There were damaging allegations over safety and pollution in the US and the company began to look to a post-Browne era.

That his personal reputation crashed so dramatically this week reminded us that despite being ‘the outstanding British businessman of his generation' he was as human - and fallible - as any of us.

The Mail on Sunday was clearly gunning for Browne after receiving information of his relationship with Jeff Chevalier at the beginning of this year.

Some say the best advice would have been to come clean at this point. As Max Clifford points out, Browne was confronted with a hill but chose to turn it into a mountain by taking out an injunction against the story.

The Daily Telegraph's Jeff Randall recently told PRWeek (16 March) that newspaper injunctions often had an opposite effect to that intended, only raising media interest. How right he was in this case.

Was Browne badly advised? Or was he simply of a generation that couldn't bear to have his private life trawled over by the tabloids? The latter explains his disastrous decision to tell a lie in court. In his favour Browne had - at the time of writing anyway - left BP quickly and quietly.

Looking back, his biggest mistake may have been believing that money, power and admiration puts one at an advantage to the law and the media - and enables one to be slightly less human.
danny.rogers@haynet.com

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