It wasn't so long ago that Texas stood out as capital of the global oil industry. Now the center of gravity has shifted to London and Europe. BP Amoco PLC's boss has a lot to do with that change. Since taking over as chief executive of BP in 1995, John Browne has launched a series of deals that have revitalized an industry that was becoming a sleepy backwater.
The soft-talking, cheroot-puffing Browne, 52, snapped up Amoco for $53 billion in 1998, and, after a long battle with U.S. regulators, he recently added Arco to his empire. BP, which was troubled in the early 1990s, is now highly profitable. The company's market capitalization of almost $200 billion is No. 2 in the industry after Exxon Mobil Corp., surpassing longtime rival Royal/Dutch Shell Group.
A Cambridge graduate, Browne, a bachelor, is deeply attached to BP Amoco. He says his job is far more pleasant these days, as he plots takeovers and other growth moves, than it was in the mid-1990s, when the company shed thousands of employees. His achievements in shaping the company brought him a knighthood from Queen Elizabeth in 1998.
Browne's moves have inspired imitators. Exxon bought Mobil in 1998, and Thierry Desmarest, CEO of the company now called TotalFina Elf, did a rollup of his Continental rivals. Competitors are now watching for clues to Browne's next tack. Regulators are on guard against more monster takeovers. But he could move further into environmentally friendly natural gas, where he's now a major player, thanks to the Arco deal. Although Browne says he needs time to absorb Arco, he's a restless CEO.