Big guns fail to take bait in BP chairman hunt

Sir Peter Sutherland limps on as chairman of the oil giant as calls for his resignation bring new urgency

As Sir Peter Sutherland faces calls to step down as chairman of BP, it has emerged that in the long drawn-out search for his successor a number of heavyweight industrialists, such as the Vodafone chairman Sir John Bond, were approached.

Sir John, along with Lord Turner, chairman of the Financial Services Authority, and Howard Davies, a former head of the FSA, have also been considered as potential chairman for the oil giant.

Sources close to the company said that Sir John, the former chairman of banking giant, HSBC, had been one of the favourites to take over from Sir Peter, but that his new position at Vodafone precluded his taking on the job. Sir John had been approached at about the same time BP was talking seriously to Paul Skinner, the chairman of Rio Tinto, who was due to retire this month.

But Mr Skinner turned down the chance to run BP after deciding that he should stay on at the mining giant to help smooth the investor revolt over its deal with Chinalco, China's state mining group.

The headhunter, Anna Mann, has had to start the search from scratch following Mr Skinner's decision to stay at Rio Tinto. She is working with Ian Prosser, the non-executive director and head of the nominations committee, who is charged with handling the recruitment. It is understood that there is now a "longlist" that includes a broader range of international businessmen and that BP hopes the job can be filled by the summer.

Filling the BP chairmanship has been one of the longest executive searches in corporate history. Some of the UK's top industrialists, including Sir John Rose, chief executive of Rolls-Royce, Niall FitzGerald, deputy chairman of Thomson Reuters, John Buchanan, deputy chairman of Vodafone, and Bob Wilson of BG, and Sir John Parker, chairman of National Grid, have been in the frame at some time but have either turned down the job or been turned down. One of the problems has been the age of many of the candidates, as BP wants a new chairman to stay for 10 years.

In the meantime Sir Peter, who has agreed to stay on until a successor is found, will this week face a tricky annual meeting in London's Docklands when the shareholders group Pirc will be calling for his head. Pirc says Sir Peter should go because of his involvement, until February, as a non-executive director at Royal Bank of Scotland. Sir Tom McKillop, former RBS chairman, has already stepped down from the BP board to avoid any further embarrassment.

Pirc says it wants Sir Peter to stand down because he played a pivotal role at RBS, including involvement in the ex-chief executive, Sir Fred Goodwin's £700,000-a-year pension.

Sir Peter, and BP, have hit back at Pirc, claiming that the majority of its shareholders do not share its view. One source said: "There's no way Peter will be voted off and it would be a crazy time to do so."