Incorporated: 1998 as BP Amoco PLC
Sales: $148.06 billion (2000)
Stock Exchanges: London New York Chicago Pacific Toronto Tokyo Paris Zurich Frankfurt
Ticker Symbol: BP
NAIC: 32411 Petroleum Refineries; 211111 Crude Petroleum and Natural Gas Extraction; 211112 Natural Gas Liquid Extraction (pt); 48621 Pipeline Transportation of Natural Gas (pt); 48611 Pipeline Transportation of Crude Oil; 48691 Pipeline Transportation of Refined Petroleum Products; 42271 Petroleum Bulk Stations and Terminals; 42272 Petroleum and Petroleum Products Wholesalers (Except Bulk Stations and Terminals); 324191 Petroleum Lubricating Oil and Grease Manufacturing; 42269 Other Chemical and Allied Products Wholesalers
Formed by the 1998 merger of British Petroleum Company and Amoco Corporation, BP p.l.c. is the third largest oil company in the world. The company is integrated, with operations in three main segments. The first, exploration and production, operates in 29 countries and produces 1.93 million barrels of crude oil and 7.6 billion cubic feet of natural gas each day. BP’s second segment consists of “downstream” businesses such as refining, marketing, supply, and transportation. In this segment, the company operates 23 oil refineries, with total daily throughput of 3.2 million barrels, and 29,000 service stations around the world. BP’s third major segment is the production of petrochemicals—substances obtained from petroleum. BP’s petrochemicals are used in a wide range of applications, including packaging, fuel additives, synthetic rubber, detergents, cosmetics, and pharmaceuticals. The company is the world’s largest maker of purified terephthalic acid, a substance used to manufacture polyester and fibers and resins used in bottles and containers. The company also has growing operations in solar power.
British Petroleum: Early 20th-century Origins
BP originated in the activities of William Knox D’Arcy, an adventurer who had made a fortune in Australian mining. In 1901 D’Arcy secured a concession from the Grand Vizier of Persia (now known as Iran) to explore for petroleum throughout most of his empire. The search for oil proved extremely costly and difficult, since Persia was devoid of infrastructure and politically unstable. Within a few years D’Arcy was in need of capital. Eventually, after intercession by members of the British Admiralty, the Burmah Oil Company joined D’Arcy in a Concessionary Oil Syndicate in 1905 and supplied further funds in return for operational control. In May 1908 oil was discovered in the southwest of Persia at Masjid-i-Suleiman, the first oil discovery in the Middle East. The following April the Anglo-Persian Oil Company was formed, with the Burmah Oil Company holding most of the shares.
The dominant figure in the early years of the Anglo-Persian Oil Company was Charles Greenway. Greenway began his career in the firm of managing agents who handled the marketing of Burmah Oil’s products in India. Invited by Burmah Oil to help in the formation of Anglo-Persian Oil, he became a founding director, was appointed managing director in 1910, and took the position of chairman in 1914. The first few years of the company’s existence were extremely difficult, and it survived as an independent entity in large part through Greenway’s skill. Although Anglo-Persian Oil had located a prolific oil field, it encountered major problems in refining the crude oil. The company also lacked a tanker fleet and a distribution network to sell its products.
For a time Anglo-Persian Oil risked being absorbed by one of the larger oil companies, such as the Royal Dutch/Shell Group, with whom it signed a ten-year marketing agreement in 1912. But in 1914 Greenway preserved the independence of Anglo-Persian Oil by a unique agreement with the British government. Under the terms of this agreement, negotiated with Winston Churchill, then first lord of the Admiralty, Greenway signed a long-term contract with the British Admiralty for the supply of fuel oil, which the Royal Navy wished to use as a replacement for coal.
At the same time, in an unusual departure from the United Kingdom’s laissez-faire traditions, the British government invested £2 million in Anglo-Persian Oil, receiving in return a majority shareholding that it would retain for many years. The transaction provided the company with funds for further investment in refining equipment and an initial investment in transport and marketing in fulfillment of Greenway’s ambition to create an independent, integrated oil business. In return for its investment, the British government was allowed to appoint two directors to the company’s board with powers of veto, which could not, however, be exercised over commercial affairs. In fact, the government directors never used their veto throughout the period of state shareholding in the company. On paper Anglo-Persian Oil was state controlled until the 1980s; in practice it functioned as a purely commercial company.
Growth to Global Prominence During World War I
World War I created considerable opportunities for the fledgling enterprise. Although within Persia the authority of the shah had almost disintegrated, and in 1915 Anglo-Persian Oil’s pipeline to the coast was cut by dissident tribesmen and German troops, demand for oil products was soaring. Between 1912 and 1918 there was a tenfold increase in oil production in Iran. The war also created opportunities for Greenway to further his ambition of establishing an integrated oil business. In 1915 Greenway founded a wholly owned oil tanker subsidiary, and within five years Anglo-Persian Oil had more than 30 oil tankers. In 1917, in his biggest coup, Greenway acquired British Petroleum Company, the British marketing subsidiary of the European Petroleum Union. The European Petroleum Union, a Continental alliance with significant Deutsche Bank participation, had been expropriated by the British government as an enemy property. In 1917 Greenway also decided to establish a refinery at Swansea, Wales, with improved refining technology that could produce petroleum products for British and European markets.
World War I, coupled with Greenway’s skill, led to Anglo Persian Oil’s emergence by the late 1920s as one of the world’s largest oil companies, matching Royal Dutch/Shell and Standard Oil of New Jersey in stature. During the 1920s the company made a major expansion in marketing, establishing subsidiaries in many European countries and, after the expiration of the agreement with Shell in 1922, in Africa and Asia. New refineries were established in Scotland and France, and a research laboratory erected in Sunbury, Great Britain, in 1917 greatly expanded the company’s activities. In the early 1920s there were some criticisms of the management of Anglo-Persian Oil within the British government and some suggestions that the state shareholding be privatized, but in November 1924 a decision was made to retain the government’s equity stake.
Greenway’s successor was John Cadman, a former mining engineer who had been a professor of mining at Birmingham University before World War I and who had become a major figure in official British oil policy during the war. In 1923 he became a managing director of Anglo-Persian Oil, and in 1927, chairman. He introduced major administrative reforms and, in the words of business historian Alfred Chandler, as quoted in Scale and Scope: The Dynamics of Industrial Capitalism, “was one of the few effective British organizational builders.” Cadman was successful in overcoming the excessive departmentalism and lack of coordination that had formerly characterized the company. In 1928, he also joined forces with other leading oil companies in a clandestine price-fixing agreement among the world’s largest oil companies.
Depression and the Threat of Iranian Nationalism in the 1930s
In the 1930s one of Cadman’s greatest challenges came from the growth of Persian nationalism. Previously, in 1921, the old dynasty of shahs had been overthrown by an army colonel, Reza Khan, who made himself shah in 1925. Reza Khan was determined to reverse the foreign political and economic domination of his country. Anglo-Persian Oil had a symbolic role as a bastion of British imperialism, and, following growing resentment of declining royalty payments from the company due to its falling profits during the Great Depression, the government of Persia canceled its concession in November 1932. The dispute eventually went to the League of Nations, and in 1933 Persia signed a new 60-year concession agreement with Anglo-Persian Oil that reduced the area of the concession to about a quarter of the original and introduced a new tonnage basis of assessment for royalty payments. Anglo-Persian Oil had the formidable backing of the British government, and Persia gained little out of the dispute.
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The oil company, which was renamed Anglo-Iranian Oil in 1935—the year Persia became Iran—became a renewed target of nationalist discontent after World War II. The Iranians complained that their dividends were too small, and the signing of 50-50 profit-sharing agreements between governments and oil companies elsewhere—in Venezuela in 1948 and Saudi Arabia in 1950—fueled criticism of Anglo-Iranian Oil within Iran. Extensive negotiations ensued between the company and the Iranian government. Anglo-Iranian Oil eventually offered substantial concessions, but they came too late and were repudiated by the nationalist government of Muhammad Mussadegh.
On May 1, 1951, the Iranian oil industry was formally nationalized. Several years of complex negotiations followed, and eventually, a 1953 coup—in which the British government and the United States Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) were implicated—resulted in the overthrow of Mussadegh. After his removal from power, an agreement was reached that allowed the return to Iran of Anglo-Iranian Oil—renamed the British Petroleum Company in 1954—but not on such favorable terms as the company had secured after the early 1930s dispute. Under the accord, which was reached in August 1954, British Petroleum held a 40 percent interest in a newly created consortium of Western oil companies, formed to undertake oil exploration, production, and refining in Iran.
The events of 1951-54 had encouraged BP to diversify away from its overdependence on a single source of crude oil. The Iranian nationalization deprived the company of two-thirds of its production. The company responded by increasing output in Iraq and Kuwait and by building new refineries in Europe, Australia, and Aden (now part of Yemen). Oil exploration activities were launched in the Arabian Gulf, Canada, Europe, north Africa, east Africa, and Australia. Meanwhile, BP, which had moved first into petrochemicals in the late 1940s, became the second largest chemicals company in the United Kingdom in 1967.
- Rockefeller’s Standard Oil Trust establishes the Standard Oil Company (Indiana).
- The Standard Oil Trust is liquidated; Standard Oil (Indiana) becomes a subsidiary of Standard Oil Company (New Jersey).
- William Knox D’Arcy obtains a concession from Persia to explore for petroleum there.
- D’Arcy’s company becomes the first to strike oil in the Middle East.
- D’Arcy and Burmah Oil form the Anglo-Persian Oil Company.
- The government orders Standard Oil Company (New Jersey) to relinquish control of its subsidiaries; Standard Oil (Indiana) becomes an independent company.
- The British government acquires a controlling interest in the Anglo-Persian Oil Company.
- Anglo-Persian forms an oil tanker subsidiary.
- Anglo-Persian acquires British Petroleum Company.
- Standard (Indiana) acquires 50 percent of the American Oil Company, which marketed an antiknock gasoline under the brand name “Amoco.”
- Standard (Indiana) buys an interest in the Pan American Petroleum & Transport Company in the largest oil industry consolidation to date, giving Standard entry into oil fields in Mexico, Venezuela, and Iraq.
- Standard (Indiana) and five other Standard companies organize the Atlas Supply Company to sell automobile tires and other accessories.
- Standard (Indiana) sells Pan American’s foreign interests.
- Persia signs a new 60-year concession with Anglo-Persian Oil.
- Anglo-Persian is renamed Anglo-Iranian Oil when Persia becomes Iran.
- Amoco Chemicals is formed.
- Standard (Indiana) forms a foreign exploration department to spearhead exploration efforts in Canada and other countries.
- The Iranian oil industry is nationalized, ousting Anglo-Iranian Oil.
- Standard Oil (Indiana) is the nation’s largest domestic oil company.
- Anglo-Iranian Oil is renamed the British Petroleum Company, returns to Iran.
- Standard (Indiana) reorganizes, consolidating nine subsidiaries into four larger companies.
- Standard (Indiana) begins to use the brand name Amoco heavily in its advertising and subsidiary names.
- British Petroleum becomes the second largest chemicals company in the United Kingdom.
- BP makes a major oil find at Prudhoe Bay in Alaska, partners with Standard Oil Company of Ohio (SOHIO) to develop the property.
- BP discovers the Forties field, the first major commercial oil find in British waters.
- Standard Oil (Indiana)’s tanker Amoco Cadiz runs aground, dumping thousands of tons of oil off the French coast.
- Standard Oil (Indiana) changes its name to Amoco Corporation.
- BP acquires SOHIO, forms BP America; the British government sells its shares of BP.
- Amoco buys Dome Petroleum, Ltd., of Canada.
- Amoco becomes the first foreign oil company to explore the Chinese mainland.
- Amoco restructures, replacing its three major subsidiaries with a network of 17 business groups.
- BP merges its European refining and marketing operations with Mobil Corporation.
- Amoco begins a divestiture program designed to shed noncore properties.
- British Petroleum acquires Amoco Corporation, forming BP Amoco PLC.
- BP Amoco acquires Atlantic Richfield Co. and Burmah Castrol, changes its name to BP p.l.c.
The company’s future was secured at the end of the 1960s by major oil discoveries in Alaska and the North Sea. In 1965 BP found gas in British waters of the North Sea. In October 1970 it discovered the Forties field, the first major commercial oil find in British waters. Throughout the 1960s BP also had been looking for oil in Alaska, and in 1969 this effort was rewarded by a major discovery at Prudhoe Bay on the North Slope. In the previous year BP had acquired the U.S. East Coast refining and marketing operations from Atlantic Richfield Company, and the stage was now set for a surge of expansion in the United States. Through its large share in Prudhoe Bay, BP owned more than 50 percent of the biggest oil field in the United States, and it needed outlets for this oil.
The solution was a 1969 agreement with the Standard Oil Company of Ohio (SOHIO), the market leader in Ohio and several neighboring states. Under the agreement, SOHIO took over BP’s Prudhoe Bay leases as well as the downstream facilities acquired from Atlantic Richfield. In return, BP acquired 25 percent of SOHIO’s equity. In 1970 BP and SOHIO engaged in a seven-year struggle to develop the Prudhoe Bay oil field and construct the 800-mile Trans-Alaska Pipeline system, which was finally completed in 1977. By the following year BP had taken a majority holding in SOHIO. Later, in 1987, BP would acquire SOHIO outright and merge it with BP’s other interests in the United States to form a new company: BP America.
Oil Crisis of the 1970s
The oil price shocks and the transformation of the balance of power between oil companies and host governments that occurred in the 1970s caused many problems for BP, as for other Western oil companies. BP lost most of its direct access to crude oil supplies produced in countries that belonged to the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC). The company’s oil assets were nationalized in Libya in 1971 and Nigeria in 1979. BP and Shell clashed with the British government in 1973 over the allocation of scarce oil supplies. BP’s chairman, Sir Eric Drake, refused to give priority to supplying the United Kingdom, despite forceful reminders from Prime Minister Edward Heath that the government owned half of the company.
Problems in the oil industry prompted BP to diversify away from its traditional role as an integrated oil company heavily dependent on Middle Eastern oil production. Beginning in the mid-1970s, BP built up a large coal business, especially in the United States, Australia, and South Africa. BP’s chemical interests also expanded during this period, especially after 1978, when it acquired major European assets from Union Carbide and Monsanto. Also in the mid-1970s, BP became active in mineral mining, acquiring Selection Trust, a mining finance house based in Great Britain, in what was then the London stock market’s largest ever takeover bid.
CEO Sir Peter Walters, who took BP’s helm in 1981, guided a five-year acquisitions binge costing approximately £10 billion. It included the purchase of the Purina Mills animal feed company in 1986 as well as the purchase of the remaining shares in SOHIO. In 1981 SOHIO acquired Keiecott, the largest U.S. copper producer.
Seen retrospectively, this diversification strategy was not always a wise one. A major world recession after 1979 led to considerable overcapacity, forcing BP to close down or sell off parts of its chemicals business in the early 1980s. Late in the decade, the energy conglomerate sold off its coal and minerals interests in the United States, Canada, Indonesia, Australia, and South Africa, netting £428 million in the process. BP started to consolidate its upstream business through divestment in the late 1980s. Another sale of selected worldwide oil and gas interests and assets brought in $1.3 billion. In 1990 and 1991 sales of exploration interests and assets in New Zealand, France, The Netherlands, and from the BP Exploration division in particular totaled £830 million.
One notably successful acquisition was Britoil, a company established by the British government in the 1970s to participate in North Sea oil exploration. Britoil had become one of the largest independent oil exploration and production companies, and in acquiring it, BP almost doubled its exploration acreage in the North Sea.
The late 1980s saw considerable changes at BP. In October 1987 the government under Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher sold its remaining shares in the company as part of a privatization program. The timing of the share issue was particularly unfortunate, as the world’s stock markets collapsed between the opening and closing of the offer. One result of the sale was that by March 1988 the Kuwait Investment Office had built up a 21.6 percent stake in the company; government regulatory authorities subsequently reported that this share was reduced to less than 10 percent.
In the early 1990s British Petroleum sought to consolidate its activities to focus on its traditional areas of strength in “upstream” areas—oil and gas exploration, field development, production, pipeline transportation, and gas marketing—and “downstream” areas—oil supply trading, refining, and marketing—as well as in chemicals manufacturing. As a result of its corporate shuffling, BP now focused on its three core businesses: oil exploration and production, oil refining and marketing, and chemicals.
Project 1990 Under CEO Horton
In 1990 BP announced Project 1990, a fundamental change of its corporate structure. The primary aims were to reduce organizational complexity, reshape the central organization and reduce its cost, and reposition BP for the 1990s. Project 1990 was the brainchild of BP’s chairman, Robert Horton. Horton earned a reputation for saving money and rose to prominence at BP by cutting costs first at the company’s tanker division, then progressing to BP’s chemicals subsidiary. Eventually becoming chairman and chief executive officer of BP Oil in 1990, he set out to cut $750 million from BP’s annual bottom line by revamping the corporate culture.
At the heart of the scheme was a conviction that BP had become overly bureaucratic and that strategic flexibility was handicapped as a result. In 1990, Horton said, “What I’m trying to do is simply, refocus, and make it clear we don’t need to have hierarchies. We don’t need to have baronial head office departments. This is a fundamentally different way of looking at the way you run the center of the corporation.” Under Project 1990, nearly 90 percent of corporate center committees were abolished, with individuals taking responsibility instead. Hierarchically structured departments were to be replaced by small flexible teams with more open and less formal lines of communication.
Unfortunately, Project 1990 quickly came to represent wholesale job cuts and low morale. Between 1990 and 1992, more than 19,000 positions—more than 16 percent of the total workforce—were cut. The intended result of the job cuts was to shorten the lines of command and promote individual responsibility, but workloads were not redistributed in the process. Project 1990 earned a poor reputation among employees, because some of the most basic measures to promote good communication and efficiency were eschewed for job elimination. Horton also insisted on maintaining BP’s dividend—despite cuts in other vital areas.
As a result of Project 1990’s shortcomings, many employees lost faith in it, according to a 1991 internal survey. Horton’s personal abrasiveness and tendency to dictate, rather than cultivate, change earned him an unflattering nickname: “The Hatchet.” He was forced to resign on June 25, 1992, after BP sustained its first ever quarterly losses. Sales had slid from $66.4 billion in 1990 to $51.9 billion in 1992, and profits declined from $3.2 billion to an annual loss of £458 million ($811 million).
Restructuring Under New Management Team in the Mid-1990s
Horton’s role was split between Lord Ashburton, the nonexecutive director who had led the mutiny, and Sir David Simon, who advanced from chief operating officer to chief executive officer. Ironically, however, Simon and Ashburton soon found that they needed to accelerate, not reverse, Horton’s plan. First, they organized the company’s interests into three primary divisions: BP Exploration, BP Oil, and BP Chemicals. The new organizational scheme allowed the parent to better analyze and pinpoint underperforming and noncore assets with a view to improvement or elimination. Of the $4 billion in assets targeted for divestment were BP Nutrition and the company’s controlling stake in BP Canada. The company also planned to reduce debt by $1 billion annually and invest $5 billion per year on capital projects.
From 1993 to 1995, BP cut another 9,000 people from the payroll, reducing employment to less than 54,000 by the end of 1996. Reorganization efforts also focused on the troubled American subsidiary, BP Oil, which contributed more than $20 million of the parent company’s 1992 loss. Cost-cutting measures at the subsidiary ran the gamut, from selling 300 California and Florida gas stations, to employee buyouts eliminating 600 to 700 jobs, to the close scrutinization of travel vouchers.
The ongoing cuts (which were expected to bring employment down to 50,000) brought home a stern reality; as an unnamed source told Oil & Gas Journal in 1996, “There is no doubt among staff that BP is a lean and mean machine these days, and not the Rolls-Royce among oil companies it once thought itself.” Ashburton and Simon also halved BP’s “fat-cat” dividend, a measure Horton had been reluctant to take. In 1995, Sir John Browne, former chief of Exploration, took over as BP’s chief executive. The change in leadership was to bring about even greater shifts in the company’s focus, direction, and size.
Under Browne’s guidance, BP accelerated its use of strategic partnerships to cut the cost of doing business around the world. In 1996, for example, the company merged its European fuel and lubricants business—including pipelines, terminals, road tanker fleets, refineries, depots, and retail sites—with Mobil Corporation. The joint venture operated in 43 countries and held a 12 percent share for fuels and an 18 percent share for lubricants in the European market. A joint venture with China’s Shanghai Petrochemical Company expanded BP’s chemical interests in Asia while limiting the company’s liabilities. The company hoped to target Southeast Asia and Eastern Europe for new downstream operations. In 1997, BP announced that it would build its first service stations in Japan. Also in 1997, BP acquired a 10 percent equity stake in AO Sidanco, a major Russian oil and gas company, as well as 45 percent of Sidanco’s majority interest in a separate Russian company with major oil and gas properties in east Siberia.
The partnerships and acquisitions of the mid-1990s were mere foreshadowings of much bigger deals to come. In 1998, BP made history by acquiring Amoco Corporation, the fifth largest oil company in the United States and the largest producer of natural gas in North America. The $50 billion deal was both the first megamerger in the oil industry and largest industrial merger ever made. It was a highly significant move for BP; not only did it add substantially to the company’s oil operations, but more important, it gave the company a leadership position in natural gas. With demand for gas expected to grow much faster than demand for oil in the coming years, it was critical for BP to move in that direction.
Early Days at Amoco: The Late 1800s
Amoco had been in business since 1889, although it had been known as Standard Oil Company (Indiana) until its name was changed in 1985. The company was formed outside Whiting, Indiana, a location chosen by John Rockefeller’s Standard Oil Trust as a refinery site close enough to sites in the growing midwestern market to keep freight costs low, yet far enough away to avoid disturbing residents.
From the beginning, the Whiting facility was organized as a self-supporting entity, planning for long-term expansion. Although refining was its main activity, it also constructed oil barrels for transportation and manufactured an oil-based product line consisting of axle grease, harness oil, paraffin wax for candles, and kerosene produced from the crude oil. The oil itself flowed to Chicago and other midwestern cities via two pipes originating in Lima, Ohio. Land transportation began on the refinery’s grounds, at a railroad terminal belonging to the Chicago & Calumet Terminal Railroad, a company over which a Standard Oil interest had gained control. This terminal’s placement gave the company exclusive use of the tracks, access to the West and the Southwest, and a direct route that eliminated the expense of switching tolls.
Standard (Indiana) had no direct marketing organization of its own. After the Standard Oil Trust was liquidated in 1892 by order of the Ohio Supreme Court, the 20 companies under its jurisdiction reverted to their former status and became subsidiaries of Standard Oil Company (New Jersey). The functions of Standard Oil (Indiana) were then expanded to include marketing.
The company’s capitalization was increased from $500,000 to $1 million, which was divided into $100 shares. Standard Oil still owned about 54 percent of Standard (Indiana). Standard (Indiana) used the extra cash to buy Standard Oil Company (Minnesota) and Standard Oil Company (Illinois), formerly P.C. Hanford Oil Company, an oil marketing organization in Chicago. The extra capital expanded Standard’s sales territory, which was broadened even further when the property of Chester Oil Company of Minnesota was bought. Other acquisitions followed, and by 1901 the company was marketing through its own organization in 11 states.
At first, Standard (Indiana) had few competitors in the petroleum-product market. It enjoyed about 88 percent of the business in kerosene and heavy fuel oil. After competition began to grow, Standard (Indiana) fought back with strategically placed bulk storage stations and subsidiary companies in competitive areas that cut prices and drove competitors out. Earnings rose from $605,781 in 1896 to a high of almost $4.2 million in 1899, but the company’s competitive practices and its growing market share made it the target of government agencies.
Independence and Growth Through Acquisition: The Early 1900s
In 1911, after a court battle lasting almost three years, Standard Oil Company (New Jersey)—the parent company to Standard (Indiana) and other Standard companies—was ordered to relinquish supervision of its subsidiaries. Gasoline sales had risen from 31.6 million gallons to 1.57 billion between 1897 and 1911. Once independent, Standard (Indiana) began to cater to the burgeoning automobile market, opening a Minneapolis, Minnesota, service station in 1912. Chicago’s first service station opened in 1913, and by 1918, there were 451 altogether. Together with growing sales of road oil, asphalt, and other supporting products, the automotive industry provided one-third of all Standard (Indiana) business.
To get as much gasoline out of each barrel of crude as possible, Standard formulated the cracking process, which doubled the yield by separating the oil’s molecules, by means of heat and pressure, into a dense liquid plus a lighter product that would boil in gasoline’s range. The possibility of cheaper gasoline and a new line of petroleum-based products made the method attractive to other refiners, who licensed it, accounting for 34 percent of the company’s total profits between 1913 and 1922.
With the end of World War I, company Chairman Colonel Robert Stewart’s top priority was to find a secure source of crude oil, to meet the rapidly expanding demand for gasoline and kerosene. Before the war, Standard had depended on the Prairie Oil and Gas Company for its supply, but military needs diverted Prairie’s crude to the refineries along the Atlantic seaboard. To obtain a reliable source of crude oil, Stewart acquired 33 percent of Midwest Refining Company of Wyoming, in 1920. A half interest in the Sinclair Pipe Company was purchased in 1921, for $16.4 million in cash, improving transportation capacity. Sinclair’s 2,900 miles of pipeline ran from north Texas to Chicago, encompassed almost 6,000 wells, and ran through oil-rich Wyoming.
Standard bought an interest in the Pan American Petroleum & Transport Company in 1925. The interest, costing $37.6 million, was the largest oil consolidation in the history of the industry, giving Standard (Indiana) access to one of the world’s largest tanker fleets and entry into oil fields in Mexico, Venezuela, and Iraq. In 1929 Standard (Indiana) acquired another chunk of Pan American stock through a stock swap, bringing its total ownership of Pan American to 81 percent.
Pan American also introduced Standard to the American Oil Company, of Baltimore, Maryland. Started by the Blaustein family, American Oil marketed most of Pan American’s oil in the eastern United States and was 50 percent owned by Pan American and 50 percent owned by the Blausteins. The Blau-steins were initiators of the first measuring gasoline pump and inventors of the high-octane Amoco-Gas that reduced engine knocking.
Though expensive, these investments proved to be sound; by 1929, the Depression notwithstanding, Standard Oil (Indiana) was second only to Standard Oil (New Jersey) as a buyer of crude oil. Equally profitable as a supplier, the company’s net earnings for 1929 were $78.5 million after taxes.
In 1929 Stewart was followed as CEO by Edward G. Seubert, who continued to strengthen Standard’s crude oil supply. With an eye to future supply security, Seubert shifted the emphasis to buying and developing crude oil-producing properties like McMan Oil and Gas Company, a 1930 purchase that provided 10,000 barrels daily. Also in 1930, Standard acquired both the remaining 50 percent interest in the Sinclair Pipe Line Company and the Sinclair Crude Oil Purchasing Company for $72.5 million, giving it control over one of the country’s largest pipeline systems and crude oil buying agencies. These subsidiaries now became the Stanolind Pipe Line Company and the Stanolind Crude Oil Purchasing Company; they were joined in 1931 by the Stanolind Oil & Gas Company, a newly organized subsidiary absorbing several smaller ones.
In 1929 a retail venture called the Atlas Supply Company, which was co-organized with five other Standard firms, had been organized to sell automobile tires and other accessories nationwide. The Great Depression, however, made competition fierce by the end of 1930. Even worse conditions threatened after the largest oil field in history was found in east Texas in late 1930. The new field caused production to rise quickly to a daily average of 300,000 barrels in 1931, glutting the market. Ruthless price-cutting followed. Standard (Indiana) did not engage in this practice, preferring instead to curtail exploration and drilling activities. As a result, only 49.9 billion barrels were produced in 1931, as against 55.1 billion the year before, and the company’s 13 domestic facilities operated well below capacity. The 45,073 employees worked on construction projects, and accepted wage cuts and part-time employment to minimize layoffs. The flow of cheap crude oil continued, often in excess of limits set by state regulatory bodies; gas sales were accompanied by premiums like candy, ash trays, and cigarette lighters. Track-side stations, where gasoline was pumped from the tank car into the customer’s automobile, posed another price-cutting threat. Also prevalent were cooperatives organized by farmers, who would buy tank cars of gasoline for distribution among members to save money. These conditions caused 1932 earnings to reach only $16.5 million—down from $17.5 million in 1931.
In 1932 Standard decided to sell Pan American’s foreign interests to Standard Oil (New Jersey). These properties cost Standard Oil (New Jersey) slightly less than $48 million cash plus about 1.8 million shares of Standard Oil (New Jersey) stock.
By 1934 the worst of the Depression was over. Activities in Texas led the Stanolind Oil & Gas Company to the Hastings field, which held 43 producing wells by the end of 1935. Also in 1935, more oil-producing acreage in east Texas came with Stanolind Oil & Gas Company’s $42 million purchase of the properties of Beaumont-based Yount-Lee Oil Company, an acquisition that helped Stanolind Oil & Gas to increase its daily average production to 68,965 barrels.
During the 1930s overproduction began to threaten, and federal and state governments tried to curb oil production with heavy taxes. Standard felt the bite in Iowa’s 1935 chain-store tax, which could not be justified by its service stations’ profit margin. Therefore, the company turned back leased stations to their owners, and leased company-owned stations to independent operators, to be operated as separate outlets. By the following July, all 11,685 Standard (Indiana) service stations were independently operated and the company was once more primarily a producer distributing oil at wholesale prices. This move spurred the newly independent entrepreneurs, whose increased sales helped to achieve a net profit for Standard of $30.2 million for 1935.
Foreign Exploration, Domestic Reorganization at Mid-Century
When Standard reached its 50th year in 1939, during World War II, its research chemists were working to improve the high-octane fuels needed for military and transport planes. Standard’s engineers cooperated with other companies to build the pipelines necessary for oil transportation. By 1942, the “Big Inch” pipeline carried a daily load of 300,000 barrels of crude from Texas to the East Coast, where most of it was used to support the war effort. Loss of manpower and government steel restrictions curbed operations, yet the company produced 47 million barrels of crude and purchased about 102 million barrels from outside sources. Other wartime products from Standard plants included paraffin wax coatings for military food rations, toluene (the main ingredient for TNT), butane, and butylene for aviation gasoline and synthetic rubber.
On January 1, 1945, Seubert retired as president and chief executive officer of the company. He left behind him 33,244 employees, sales of crude oil topping the 1944 figure by 37.1 percent, and a gross income of $618.9 million. Seubert was succeeded as chairman and CEO by Robert E. Wilson, formerly president of Pan American Petroleum & Transport Company, and Alonzo W. Peake became president. Peake had been vice-president of production.
The management style instituted by Wilson and Peake differed from the centralized, solo authority Seubert preferred. The two men split the supervisory authority, with no overlap of direct authority. Wilson was responsible for finance, research and development, law, and industrial relations, while Peake’s commitments included refining, production, supply and transportation, and sales and long-range planning. Responsibility for operating subsidiaries was split between the two. The result was a decentralized organization, making for swifter, more cooperative decision-making at all levels.
In 1948 Stanolind Oil & Gas formed a foreign exploration department to head exploration attempts in Canada and other countries. The new team spent more than $98 million by 1950, with Canada and the Gulf of Mexico its prime targets.
By 1952 Standard Oil (Indiana) was acknowledged as the nation’s largest domestic oil company. It possessed 12 refineries able to market products in 41 states, plus almost 5,000 miles of crude oil gathering lines, 10,000 miles of trunk lines, and 1,700 miles of refined product pipelines. By 1951, gross income had reached $1.54 billion.
In 1955 Peake retired as president, to be succeeded by former Executive Vice-President Frank Prior, who inherited the problem of a decrease in allowable production days in the state of Texas, as a result of additions to oil reserves in the state. The rising amount of imported oil was another problem that surfaced during Peake’s tenure. The total had swelled from 490,000 barrels per day in 1951 to 660,000 barrels in 1954.
Nevertheless, cheaper international exploration costs spurred Standard (Indiana) to again become active in the growing foreign oil arena that it had all but left in 1932 when it sold Pan American’s foreign interests. To handle international land leasing and joint ventures, the company organized Pan American International Oil Corporation in New York, as a subsidiary of Pan American Petroleum. Foreign operations included exploration rights for 13 million acres in Cuba, obtained in 1955; a subsidiary company formed in Venezuela in 1958, for joint exploration of 180,000 acres together with other companies; and 23 million acres obtained for exploration in Libya.
The traditional oil industry profit arrangement for international activities had been an even split between the company and the host government, although several firms had quietly bent the guidelines. Standard (Indiana) broke openly with this custom in a 1958 deal with the National Iranian Oil Company (NIOC), in which Standard (Indiana) split the profits evenly, then gave NIOC half of its own share, to which it added a $25 million bonus.
The late 1950s also saw domestic reorganization. In 1957 the company consolidated nine subsidiaries into four larger companies. Stanolind Oil & Gas Company became Pan American Petroleum Corporation, consolidating all Standard Oil (Indiana) crude oil and natural gas exploration and production. American Oil Pipe Line Company, a former subsidiary of American Oil, was merged into Service Pipe Line Company—which had been known as Stanolind Pipe Line Company until 1950—focused on oil transport. Crude oil and natural gas purchasing operations were combined to form the Indiana Oil Purchasing Company; and Amoco Chemicals Corporation consolidated all chemical activities into a single organization. Total income for 1957 was about $2 billion.
Changes Under CEO Swearingen: The 1960s-70s
In 1960 company President John Swearingen succeeded Prior as chief executive officer, the chairmanship being left vacant. Swearingen turned both domestic and foreign operations over to subsidiaries, making Standard Oil (Indiana) entirely a holding company. Operating assets were transferred to the American Oil Company, into which the Utah Oil Refining Company also was merged. American Oil’s responsibilities now included the manufacture, transport, and sale of all company petroleum products in 45 states, although limited marketing operations in three other states also were maintained. This consolidation allowed the company to develop a national image and provided more efficiency in staff use and storage and transport flexibility. Coverage being national, the company was able to advertise nationally and demand better rates from ground and air transporters.
Standard (Indiana) also became concerned with product trade names. The 1911 breakup had left several former Standard (New Jersey) subsidiaries in different areas of the country with the Standard Oil name and rights to the associated trademarks. American Oil thus had the right to use the Standard name only in the 15 midwestern states that had been the company’s original territory. Thus, in 1957, the word “American,” together with the Standard Oil (Indiana) logo, was used in all other states. Since a five-letter name was easier for motorists to note, in 1961 the company began to replace the brand name American with Amoco, the name first coined by American Oil’s original owners for the high-octane, anti-knock gasoline that had powered the Charles Lindbergh trans-Atlantic flight. Familiar within the company since the 1945 organization of the Amoco Chemicals Corporation, “Amoco” was used increasingly on products and by subsidiaries, until, by 1971, major subsidiaries everywhere had “Amoco” in their names.
In 1961 Standard’s total income reached almost $2.1 billion, yielding net earnings of $153.9 million. Continuing with methodical reorganization, Swearingen oversaw the expansion and modernization of the company’s domestic refining capacity as well as 11 of its 14 catalytic cracking units. An aggressive marketing program featured large, strategically placed retail outlets, plus the addition of Avis car rental privileges to the credit card services that had been in operation since the early 1930s. By the end of 1966 there were 5.5 million card holders, encouraging American Oil to go national with its motor club.
Because only 8 percent of its assets was located overseas, Standard (Indiana) still lacked a large foreign market for crude oil. Swearingen moved swiftly to close the gap. By 1964 foreign explorations were taking place in Mozambique, Indonesia, Venezuela, Argentina, Colombia, and Iran. Refining and marketing also were flourishing, through the acquisition of a 25,000-barrel-per-day refinery near Cremona, Italy, and about 700 Italian service stations. About 250 service stations also were opened in Australia in 1961, along with a 25,000-barrel-per-day refinery. Other foreign refineries were to be found in West Germany, England, Pakistan, and the West Indies. In 1967 Standard began production in the Persian Gulf Cyrus field, by which time the huge El Morgan field in the Gulf of Suez was producing 45,000 barrels daily.
The market for Standard’s chemical products also increased during the mid-1960s. To keep pace with demand for the raw materials used in polyester fiber and film, the company built a new facility at Decatur, Alabama, in 1965, adding another in Texas City, Texas, a year later. There were also 641 retail chemical fertilizer outlets in the Midwest and the South. The popularity of polystyrene for packaging also grew. All of these advances ensured profitability; overall chemical sales rose to $158 million by the end of 1967, on total revenues of almost $3.6 billion.
Fuel shortages and the wave of OPEC price rises, nationalizations, and takeovers of the early 1970s underlined the importance of oil exploration. Swearingen’s strategy was to accumulate as much domestic exploration acreage as possible before other companies acted, while organizing production in developing foreign markets that were not too competitive.
To capitalize on concern about air pollution, the company introduced a 91-octane lead-free gasoline in 1970 at a cost in excess of $100 million. Although motorists were initially reluctant to accept the 2 cent-per-gallon price rise, the 1973 appearance of catalytic converters on new cars assured the success of the fuel.
Environmental matters came to the fore again in 1978, when an Amoco International Oil Company tanker, the Amoco Cadiz, suffered steering failure during a storm and ran aground off the French coast, leaking about 730,000 gallons of oil into the sea. The huge oil spill cost $75 million to clean up and left its mark on the area’s tourist trade as well as its ecosystem. The French government brought a $300 million lawsuit against Amoco that eventually led to a $128 million judgment against Amoco. Amoco appealed the ruling, but the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago not only upheld the judgment but increased it to $281 million. Amoco chose not to appeal this ruling and paid the French government $243 million and the affected Brittany communities $38 million.
In late December 1978 the Shah of Iran was overthrown, and Standard (Indiana) hurriedly closed its Iranian facility and evacuated American staff members after all American employees of Amoco Iran Oil Company received death threats. The year 1978 had seen record-breaking production in Iran, and its loss resulted in a 35 percent production decrease in the company’s overseas operations. Despite these turbulent events, net income was $1.5 billion in 1971, on total revenues of $20.197 billion.
By the end of the 1970s, chemical production accounted for about 7 percent of company earnings. To gain more visibility with consumers, Standard (Indiana) began to stress end-product manufacture as well as the production of ingredients used in manufacturing processes. The trend had begun in 1968, when polypropylene manufacturer Avisun Corporation was purchased by Amoco Chemicals Corporation from Sun Oil Company. The $80 million price tag included Patchoque-Plymouth Company, maker of polypropylene carpet backing. By 1986 a 100-color line plus improved stain resistance made Amoco Fabrics & Fibers Company’s petrochemical-based Genesis carpeting a serious competitor of the stain-resistant carpeting offered by du Pont. Other strategies focused on market stimulation for basic industrial products. Since this required specialized marketing skills, the company divided its chemical operations among four subsidiaries.
Name Change and Reorganization: 1980s-90s
In 1983 John Swearingen retired as chairman of the board. In his stead came Richard W. Morrow, who had been president of the Amoco Chemicals Corporation from 1974 until 1978, before assuming the Standard (Indiana) presidency in 1978. In 1985 Standard Oil Company (Indiana) changed its name to Amoco Corporation. Morrow also presided over the 1988 acquisition of Dome Petroleum, Ltd. of Canada, which was later merged into Amoco Canada. Dome, owning 28.7 million acres of undeveloped, arctic region land, improved Amoco’s oil and gas reserves. The Dome purchase was hard-won, costing Amoco $4.2 billion. Other chances to expand oil and gas exploration in 1988 came with the acquisition of Tenneco Oil Company’s Rocky Mountain properties, for approximately $900 million.
Amoco Corporation began the 1990s with record revenues of $31.58 billion and net income of $1.91 billion. By 1990, the need for raw materials had expanded internationally, moving strongly toward Europe and the Far East. Joint ventures in Brazil, Mexico, South Korea, and Taiwan met the growing demand for polyester fibers, helping to generate about 35 percent of business overseas.
H. Laurence Fuller took over as chairman in 1991 amidst a downturn in Amoco profits owing to weakening demand for petroleum products and reduced prices caused by the recession. Revenues fell to $28.3 billion in 1991 and to $26.22 billion in 1992, while net income declined to $1.17 billion and $850 million, respectively. Fuller aimed not only to turn around the company’s fortunes but also to overtake Exxon, the top U.S. oil company, in profitability. Fuller began this effort with a 1992 restructuring intended to reduce costs and improve efficiency. Approximately 8,500 employees were axed—16 percent of Amoco’s workforce—contributing to $600 million in savings. Exploration operations were cut back from a wildcatting strategy spread out over more than 100 countries to a targeted search for oil and gas in 20 countries with proven reserves. China became a prime target area; after establishing an offshore drilling operation in 1987, Amoco signed a deal in 1992 to become the first foreign company to explore the Chinese mainland, thought to hold more than 20 billion barrels of oil.
This restructuring served as prelude to an even larger reorganization effort initiated in 1994. A total of 4,500 more jobs would be cut over the next two years, with projected savings of $1.2 billion each year. Amoco’s organizational structure was completely overhauled. The three major subsidiaries—Amoco Production Company, Amoco Oil Company, and Amoco Chemical Company—that had been responsible for the three major areas of operation were replaced by a decentralized structure with 17 business groups divided into three sectors: exploration and production, petroleum products, and chemicals. A Shared Services organization was created to share the resources of Amoco’s support operations.
Amoco’s chemical operations were overhauled during these restructurings by shedding such weak areas as oil well chemicals and by increasing expenditures in fast-growing areas such as polyester. One result was that profits from Amoco’s chemical sector increased from $68 million in 1991 to $574 million in 1994 thanks in large part to its 40 percent share of the world market in paraxylene and purified terephthalic acid, both used to make polyester, the demand for which grew dramatically, especially in Asia.
New product expenditures also were bolstered during this period. With demand for alternative and cleaner-burning fuels on the rise, Amoco introduced Crystal Clear Ultimate, a cleaner-burning premium gasoline, and test-marketed compressed natural gas for use by fleet operators. Also tested were shared service stations that offered Amoco gas and fast food (from McDonald’s and Burger King), or such services as dry cleaning (DryClean U.S.A.). These tests were so successful that Amoco planned to roll out 100 such units in 1995 at a cost of $100 million.
In 1994, Amoco made one of its largest natural gas finds off Trinidad and Tobago. The company embarked on a drive to become a leader in natural gas-powered electricity generation, creating Amoco Power Resources Corporation to pursue this venture and purchasing a 10 percent interest in electricity facilities in Trinidad and Tobago.
With the cost of oil and gas exploration soaring and lean operations not able to withstand the failure of a risky venture, more and more oil companies turned to joint ventures in the early and mid-1990s to spread the risk. Amoco was a member of a ten-company consortium that signed an agreement in 1994 with the Republic of Azerbaijan to develop oil fields in the Caspian Sea. Also in 1994 Amoco joined with rivals Shell Oil and Exxon to finance a $1 billion offshore oil platform in the Gulf of Mexico, to be the world’s deepest. In 1995, Shell and Amoco created a limited partnership to develop oil fields in the Permian Basin area of west Texas and southeast New Mexico. In 1997, Amoco partnered with the Argentina oil company Bridas Corp. to form Pan American Energy—an exploration and production company that planned to conduct operations in Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, and Uruguay.
The middle and late 1990s also were marked by continued divestitures. In 1995, the company sold its motor club business to a subsidiary of Montgomery Ward and its credit card operations to Associates First Capital Corporation, a Ford subsidiary. Two years later, it announced a major divestiture program, designed to shed nonfundamental properties and allow a tighter focus on core assets. The company sold off Amoco Gas Co., a gas pipeline and processing unit in Texas, to Tejas Gas Corp. The same year, the company sold a large portion of its domestic exploration and production assets—including oil and gas properties in Oklahoma; upstream oil and gas operations in Colorado; production properties in Wyoming, Montana, Colorado, and North Dakota; and coalbed-methane reserves in Alabama’s Black Warrior Basin.
BP Amoco: An Energy Powerhouse in the Late 20th Century
The British Petroleum-Amoco merger was finalized at the end of 1998. The new company—named BP Amoco p.l.c.—was 60 percent owned by BP shareholders and was headed by BP’s CEO Sir John Browne. Amoco’s former CEO, Laurance Fuller, was co-chairman of the board, an office he shared with BP Chairman Peter Sutherland. BP shareholders owned 60 percent of the company. The merger served a dual purpose for both BP and Amoco. In the short term, it reduced costs by eliminating areas of overlap between the two organizations—most notably, in the reduction of approximately 10,000 jobs. In the long term, the pooling of BP’s and Amoco’s assets and revenues allowed the company to finance more development and take on larger projects.
But the oil giant’s frenetic growth did not stop with the merger. Just a few months after closing the Amoco deal, the company announced yet another major acquisition: Atlantic Richfield Co. (Arco). Arco, which was based in Los Angeles, had been in the oil business since 1866—longer than either British Petroleum or Amoco. The company operated refineries and a 1,700-unit chain of gas stations in the western United States. It also held major oil and gas reserves, most of which were in Alaska. Together, in fact, BP Amoco and Arco would have controlled almost 70 percent of the oil production in Alaska—a degree of control that made the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) uncomfortable. The FTC refused to approve the merger until the company agreed to sell off Arco’s Alaskan holdings, and the deal was delayed for months before finally closing in the spring of 2000.
Meanwhile, BP Amoco was pursuing still another acquisition. In March 2000, the company agreed to purchase Burmah Castrol, a U.K. lubricants group. Burmah Castrol was the maker of Castrol brand motor oil, one of the world’s best-selling car motor oils. The company also manufactured chemicals used in the foundry, steel, and construction industries. The acquisition, which was finalized in mid-2000, gave BP Amoco the second largest market share in lubricants in Europe. In addition, like Amoco and Arco, it allowed the company to reduce costs by eliminating redundant jobs.
The year 2000 also marked a major change in corporate identity. Known in the two years since the merger as BP Amoco—a marriage of two strong trade names—the company shed “Amoco” from its name, becoming simply “BP p.l.c.” The well-known Amoco name and logo were replaced with a new BP logo and color scheme—a green and yellow sunburst. Industry analysts speculated that the changes were intended to help the company move away from its longstanding identity as an “oil company” and reposition itself as an “energy company”—one with operations in oil, natural gas, and solar power.
Browne’s aggressive acquisition strategy proved to be both well timed and well executed. The last years of the 20th century were marked by rapidly increasing prices in both crude oil and natural gas—hikes that paid off handsomely for BP. At the same time, the company began to realize the large cost reductions promised by its acquisitions. In 2000, the company made $12 billion in pretax profits—a record for a U.K. company.
Unsurprisingly, it appeared that natural gas would play an important role in BP’s future. The company planned to increase its gas marketing and trading business by 9 to 11 percent annually over the first three years of the 21st century. In comparison, the company expected its retail petroleum business to grow by only 3 to 4 percent annually. By 2003, BP estimated gas to account for more than 40 percent of its daily hydrocarbon production.
BP also planned to increase its operations in solar power. In 2001, the company signed a deal with the Spanish and Philippine governments to bring solar power to 150 Philippine villages—the largest solar energy project ever undertaken. BP also planned a fivefold expansion of its solar photovoltaic cell manufacturing operation in Spain. When complete, the Spanish operation would be one of the largest solar facilities in the world. The company planned to have a solar business worth $1 billion by 2007.
Amoco Egypt Gas (U.S.A.); Amoco Egypt Oil (U.S.A.); Amoco Energy Company of Trinidad and Tobago (U.S.A.); Amoco Trinidad (LNG) B.V. (Netherlands); Atlantic Richfield Company; Atlantic Richfield Bali North (Indonesia); BP America (U.S.A.); BP Amoco Capital; BP Amoco Company (U.S.A.); BP Amoco Corporation (U.S.A.); BP Amoco Norway; BP Australia; BP Canada Energy; BP Capital BV (Netherlands); BP Chemicals; BP Chemicals Investments; BP Developments Australia; BP Espana; BP Exploration Co.; BP Finance Australia; BP France; BP International; BP Nederland; BP Oil International; BP Oil New Zealand; BP Oil UK; BP Shipping; BP Singapore Pte; BP Solar; BP Southern Africa; Britoil; Burmah Castrol; Deutsche BP; Standard Oil Co. (U.S.A.); Vastar Resources Inc. (U.S.A.); Abu Dhabi Marine Areas (33%); Abu Dhabi Petroleum Co. (24%); China American Petrochemical Co. (Taiwan; 50%); CoTo Finance Partnership (50%); Empresa Petrolera Chaco (Bolivia; 30%); Erdolchemie (Germany; 50%); Lukarco (Kazakhstan; 46%); Malaysia-Thailand Joint Development Agency (Thailand; 25%); Pan American Energy (Argentina; 60%); Ruhrgas AG (Germany; 25%); Rusia (Russia; 25%); Sidanco (Russia; 10%); Unimar Company Texas (Indonesia; 50%).
ChevronTexaco Corporation; Exxon Mobil Corporation; Royal Dutch/Shell Group.
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—Geoffrey Jones and Gillian Wolf
—updates: April Dougal Gasbarre