13 May 2006www.spectator.co.uk


This chameleon canbite David Cameron tells Fraser Nelson that the Tories must change even more — and that taxes may have to rise

2-033_spec_1 3.05.06 5/9 /06 4:58 PM Page 32


How to keep the oi l flowing

in a dangerous wor ld

Rupert Steinerta lks to Britain’s mo st admired busine ssman, BP chief e xecutive

Lord Browne, abo ut Middle East co nflict and managem ent philosophy

of clicking brings to life the sil

Click, click, click, bu t no amount

ver and gold ligh ter in Lord

Browne of Madin gley’s hand.

The chief execu tive of BP,

Europe’s largest o il company, has r un out

of fuel and the iro ny is not lost on h im. But

colleagues rush to bring the lighter to life;

one more click, and Browne is b illowing

smoke. ‘You’d be tter not write abo ut that,’

he says, a huge gr in emerging from the fog.

John Browne is B ritain’s most adm ired

businessman, and has catapulted BP from a

market value of £20 billion in 199 5 to a

global supertanke r worth £139 billio n today.

Last month BP to pped forecasts for its first

quarter results w ith underlying pr ofits of

$5.3 billion. It is n ow the second lar gest oil

company in the wo rld behind Exxon Mobil.

As the price of c rude continues to rocket,

Browne explains w hat’s driving the m arket

— fears that ‘a d ivide’ in the Midd le East

might affect crude supplies. He is ha ving to

make contingency plans to pre-emp t sup

plies being shut of f should the worst happen

and relations be tween the Islam ic world

and the West de teriorate. A conf lict with

Iran could send the price of o il on an

upward spiral far n orth of $75 a barre l.

While Browne is planning for the worst

he is measured in his prognosis: ‘T he new

slant on oil produ ction is a question ing of

our security. Can someone use polit ical rea

sons to shut off m y supply? They h aven’t

done it in the pa st, but people ar e con

cerned that it cou ld be used becau se of a

divide in the cu lture of the Islam ic and

Western worlds. W hat I would say is that

we have to look at all eventualit ies as a

company, and ma ke sure that we m aintain

security of suppli es to our custom ers. We

have diversified s ources of oil prod uction,

which now come f rom different par ts of the

world. There’s a ll sorts of circum stances

that could create a divide but I don ’t think

it’s likely. But it ’s something in p eople’s

minds at the mom ent. It’s post 9/11. ’

Since we last m et, Browne has been

focused on a dif ferent east–west d ivide a



little closer to hom e. His corporate o ffices

have hopped from the City to the West

End. Gone is the oak panelling and marble

of Finsbury Circu s harking back to the days

of empire. In the ir place is a mode rn wood

and glass affair in St James’s Squar e which

is stylish enough to be a boutiqu e hotel.

Perma-grin recep tionists stand b eneath

moody art-house photographs. A n inge

nious umbrella-wr apping device herm etical

ly seals wet items in plastic, and gre en LED

floor lights lead to the lifts. Up on th e fifth

There’ s a fa int s mell o fstraw in t he ai r, no w the whiff of go at — or is t hat shee p?- t hen a slap of w etfish hits t he ba ck of you rnostr ils b efore givi ng w ay to som niferous lave nder and g arlic pung ent enou gh to war d aw ay ev en th e mo staggre ssive of ur ban v ampi res. Urba n?Yes, u rban, for altho ugh i t’s a Satur day morni ng, la st nig ht I s kilful ly av oided the jams on Lond on’s emer genc y exit s and stay ed pu t. Th atis wh y, tod ay, I awok e no more than afistfu l of miles from Mar ble A rch y etyearn ing f or a s ense of ca mpag ne, a nescap e to a diff erent wor ld. S o I cajol ed m y chil dren away fro m the telev ision , int o the ir clo thes, up t hehill, p ast th e bus stop for scho ol an dinto our l ocal f arme rs’ m arket . He retheir eyes are widen ing a s the real isation dawn s tha t not all f ood g rows in trick y-toopen trans paren t wra pping on gl eami ng w hite s uper marke t she lves. I am far fr om al one i n cha sing this r us in

Browne: ice-clear lo gic

floor, Browne has transported his co llection

of David Linley fu rniture to a corne r office

bigger than a fillin g station forecour t.

urbe. The wee kday car p ark I am st andin g

Size is obviously im portant when you are

in is a jun gle o f Bu gabo os th at co uld n ot

boss of Britain’s b iggest company. B rowne

make it ov er a s ingle stile , and well ingto n

also likes his Jam es Bond-style gad gets. At

boots brig ht en ough to w orry s heep. Strai ning at a c riss-c ross of lea shes ripe to

the touch of a bu tton a frosted gla ss wall

slides away to re veal an adjoining board

wrap them selve s aro und a chil d’s n eck a re

room. A second frosted glass wall is sup

packs of ci ty do gs dri ven i nto i denti ty cri ses

posed to turn tran sparent at the flic k of a

by th e wet scen t of j ust-ki lled meat. But abov e this thig h-hig h pan demo nium , the

switch to reveal a team of support s taff, but

conv ersati on is flowi ng. M ere a cqua intanc es an d hit herto stra ngers are pushi ng

‘it gets stuck’, says Browne, unable t o make

his staff appear. ‘They complain th ey can’t

their poin ts of view, rub ber-s oled heels dig

work with me wa tching them, so I mustn’t

ging i nto t he ta rmac .‘The che ddar on th e far left l eaves just a

play with it.’

hint of nu t on the t asteb uds.’ ‘But this one

crum bles onto your tong ue.’ ‘ Nothi ngmatch es th e We nsley dale I fou nd in Boro ugh l ast w eek.’ Ah, B orou gh. T hementi on of this king of far mers’ marke ts

silen ces t he re st of that secti on of the queu e. No ne of the m hav e bee n to Boro ugh Marke t in t he la st six mo nths. They will need to fi nd a new t opic of co nvers ation .

Perh aps t he m erits of th e mo uth-w ateri ng,

Pag e 5 9

Browne is a short man, slightly buil t, with

a kind face and an unwavering ga ze. He

takes a few more puffs on his Coh iba and

starts to effuse a bout BP’s green creden

tials. Many busine sses try to balance making

big profits with p aying lip service to the

environment, but Browne says the o nly way

for there to be an y substance is for the two

YOU’ VE E ARN ED I TYOU’ VE E ARN ED I TFarm ers’ marke ts ha ve be come Lond on’s n ew sa lons Franc es Os borne

to be one. ‘First, I don’t like the idea of cor

porate responsibi lity as something separate

from business,’ he says. ‘I really don ’t, oth

erwise it sounds lik e an add-on. In ou r busi

ness we have to th ink about the cos t of our

wants, what socie ty wants, and how we can

be part of society , and be in a busin ess that

lasts more than just the next tran saction.

We have a new bu siness in alternativ e ener

gy which makes m oney. We can m ake a

decent real busine ss out of it that ma kes the

sort of returns shareholders wan t. But

sometimes you h ave to do things which

don’t pay back in the next quarter — not

everything does. W e are in the busin ess of

looking at things o ver a longer term. ’

Browne has certa inly played a long game

with his career. N ext month he wi ll have

achieved 11 years in the top job — the aver

age life expectanc y of a FTSE chie f execu

tive is 40 month s. He has been voted

Britain’s most im pressive businessm an for

six years in a row , and both friends and col

leagues rate him. S ir Frank Williams , owner

of the Formula 1 team that bears h is name,

says, ‘What carves him out as a gre at busi

ness leader is his s trategic genius and an ice

clear logical reaso ning that he emp loys in

everything he ex ecutes.’ Sir John Bond,

HSBC’s outgoing chairman, call s him

‘unquestionably t he outstanding b usiness

leader of his tim e in the UK, if not the

world’. But Browne has managed to rem ain

modest. ‘The key is to remember w hy you

are in business,’ h e says. ‘Everythin g starts

with a purpose an d the big purpose of any

business is to se rve human need s. If we

don’t serve needs we pretty quickly go out

of business. Our va lues are to do bus iness in

such a way that it can be done ag ain and

yet u nfort unate ly na med, Soil Assoc iatio nmeat. After all, th ey ha ve at least 20 minutes t o go befor e the y rea ch th e Shi taki and Colch ester Blue, nestli ng al ongsi de 42 oth erdiffer ent v arieti es of mushr ooms , all ofwhich look as t houg h the y hav e bee n car efully wash ed an d the n artf ully r espri nkled with a uthen tic e arth. The f arme rs’ m arket que ue is the mode rnsalon . A c entur y ago , the salo nistes perc hed on da mask and d ebate d the late st lit erary offeri ngs w hile t heir s ervan ts pl unge d int othe mêlée of m arket day. But now t he to pics d u jou r are wha t to e at an d wh ere t o buy it an d the aren a has shift ed to mat ch. N oinvit ation is n eede d bey ond a love of c hemi cal-fr ee fo od te nded by th e ver y han ds th atpass i t to y ou. ‘ Even I,’ re marks one gastr onomi c doy enne, ‘am surpr ised at ho wobses sed with s ourci ng fo od pe ople have beco me.’ I kno w of a t lea st on e cou ple w hosepa rate at th e we eken d for the l ove o ffarm ers’ marke ts: sh e goe s to Notti ng Hi llto bu y unp asteu rised Gue rnsey crea m fro mOlive Farm . He goes to th e one in Maryl ebon e on a Sun day f or th e Cal desi

David Montgomery

chee seca ke to go with i t. Bo thbring bac k the late st int ellige nce on w here to fi nd C hegw orth Valle yapple juic e, Da vid J ennin gs’ sa mphire and Alha m Wo od bu ffalo —both chee se an d me at or ganic , of cours e.Inevi tably , the she er bu zz of the marke t tem pts th e con versa tion towand er fro m the offi cial a gend a.Eyes are d azzle d by t he br ightn ess of th e veg etabl es an d the size ofthe h and-r eared chic kens ‘as b ig as swan s.’ M inds beco me in ebria ted with t he ce lebra tory glow of do ing the r ight thing in c uttin g out pest icides and the p estile nce o f sup ermarke t cha ins t hat o ppres s the sehardworki ng fo od pr oduc ers w hoare t elling you exact ly ho w the ytend ed th e deli cious ly pi nk ra dishes yo ur te eth l ong t o cru nch i nto. ‘Far mers’ marke ts ar e am azing ,’one l ady w hispe rs to me in vagu ely Chatt erley -esq ue to nes, ‘ ther e are gen uine little far mers here. ’ Yo ur ne ighb our s pots insid er fo odie gurus Joh n Ar mit an dRowl ey Le igh a t No tting Hill or p hoto graphers Lor d Sno wdon and Terry O’N eill in Pimli co R oad. Memo ries of a l ast w inesoak ed ho liday in P rove nce r oll in to th emind, and local chat rolls off t he to ngue. The q uirks of an te-na tal y oga a re co mpar edin Q ueen’ s Par k, the intri cacie s of Arts Coun cil gr ants are p ored over i n Isli ngton and o ver i n Lo ndon Fiel ds’ B road way market t he po litica l pul se is exam ined by m edia folk. Event ually, as t he af tern oon a ppro ach

es, ch ildre n and dog s beg in to wail . Th e last

pack ages are p iled i nto p olkadotte d Cat hKidst on sh oppin g trol leys, and t he hu ntergathe rs dri ft ho me in impr ompt u gro ups o ffrien ds fo r lan guor ous w eeke nd lu nches .For more infor matio n and loca tions of Lond on’s marke ts, vi sit w ww.fa rmer smar kets. net. F ranc es Os born e is t he au thor ofLilla’ s Fea st: A true stor y of l ove, war a nda pas sion for f ood, publi shed by Bl ack Swan at £ 7.99.

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