ON MAY 1st 2007 John Browne resigned as boss of BP, a British oil giant, his career apparently in ruins. A tabloid newspaper had exposed his affair with a male ex-prostitute. For the next few weeks Lord Browne was subjected to one of those trials by media at which the British excel. Three years later the Deepwater Horizon disaster, an explosion that led to the leakage of millions of gallons of oil off America’s Gulf coast, suggested that there might have been more serious reasons than his private sexual preferences to question Lord Browne’s tenure at BP. The disaster seemed to confirm both the worries of some analysts that he had sacrificed investment in a dash for growth, and environmentalists’ accusations that his rebranding of BP as Beyond Petroleum was just superficial “greenwashing”.
Despite all the blows to his reputation, Lord Browne has done a remarkable job of reviving his career. He has built Riverstone Holdings, a private-equity company, into a powerful force in European fracking. He has also turned himself into a leading spokesman for gay rights in the corporate world. His new book, “The Glass Closet”, is his most comprehensive statement of his position: part memoir of what it was like to live a lie while running one of the world’s biggest companies and part corporate manifesto on why “coming out is good business”.
On the face of it, the corporate world has embraced gay rights with enthusiasm. More than 90% of Fortune 500 companies have policies to prevent homophobic discrimination. Both Lloyd Blankfein, the boss of Goldman Sachs, and Jamie Dimon, the boss of JPMorgan Chase, have spoken out in favour of same-sex marriage. In-house networks for homosexual staff, such as Glam (Gays and Lesbians at McKinsey) and Google’s Gayglers, have become part of the corporate furniture. Lord Browne says he has even heard of business students pretending to be gay in order to increase their chances of landing jobs at elite companies.