BP investors want board to drill into succession plans
Investors intend to raise the issue of boardroom succession with BP directors in the coming months, Sky News understands.
By Mark Kleinman, City Editor
Investors in BP want directors to prepare for changes to the leadership of the UK's second biggest oil company for the first time since it was almost crippled by the Gulf of Mexico disaster in 2010.
Sky News has learnt that a number of BP's biggest shareholders plan to raise the issue of succession in the coming months, with chairman Carl-Henric Svanberg recently passing his seventh anniversary in the role.
Bob Dudley, the chief executive, will mark the same milestone this autumn, making succession planning an increasingly important issue for the BP board agenda.
Neither Mr Svanberg or Mr Dudley have indicated a firm timetable for leaving the company, and insiders confirmed this weekend that no search for either man's replacement was under way.
"This is not yet a live project," said one.
However, sources close to BP said that Mr Svanberg had informed colleagues privately in recent months that he intended to step down before the chief executive, allowing the next chairman to make a decision about Mr Dudley's eventual successor.
While there is no time limit from a corporate governance perspective for the tenure of listed company chairmen, Mr Svanberg is considered by investors to be unlikely to stay in place beyond BP's annual meeting in 2019.
Assuming he does depart then, his successor is likely to need at least a year to decide on a new chief executive, meaning that Mr Dudley will have been in place for a decade.
Investors believe that one potential candidate for Mr Svanberg's post will be Douglas Flint, who steps down as chairman of HSBC Holdings later this year.
Mr Flint, who declined to comment, served on BP's board between 2005 and 2011, but stepped down after taking on the top job at HSBC.
He was also recently a candidate for the chairmanship of BT Group.
The memory of BP's last chairmanship recruitment process is likely to be one of the reasons for investors' decision to begin raising the issue well in advance of a change being deemed necessary.
The oil company began looking for Peter Sutherland's successor in 2007, but was forced to go back to the drawing board after a row involving its preferred candidate, Paul Skinner.
Mr Svanberg was not hired until June 2009 and did not take up the role until January 2010, just three months before the fatal accident on the Deepwater Horizon oil rig which ultimately cost BP more than $61bn £48bn).
The length of time required to identify and secure the next chairman make it likely that BP will kick off a formal search process within the next year, shareholders believe.
The hunt for Mr Svanberg's successor will be led by Sir Ian Davis, the senior independent director, who is also chairman of Rolls-Royce.
Mr Svanberg, who also chairs Volvo, the Swedish car manufacturer, is regarded as having done an able job after a shaky start, with his first major decision being to part company with Mr Dudley's predecessor, Tony Hayward.
The more recent past has also not been without difficulty, with the tumbling oil price propelling BP to its worst-ever loss in 2015.
That was followed by a massive shareholder revolt over Mr Dudley's pay last year.
At its most recent annual meeting, the company averted another row with investors by slashing the chief executive's pay packet for 2016 and cutting the maximum sum he can earn over the next three years by $3m annually.
BP's management is focused on finding new areas of growth at a challenging time for big oil explorers.
The company has announced a string of deals in recent months aimed at driving improved profits.
BP declined to comment.