Niall Fitzgerald, the deputy chairman of Thomson Reuters, has emerged as one of the favourites to succeed Peter Sutherland as chairman of BP when he steps down in April.
Finding a replacement for Mr Sutherland has been a long process, but it is understood that Mr Fitzgerald, 63, has been approached by head-hunter, Anna Mann, to take over from his fellow Irishman. Others who are said to have been approached are Sir John Rose, the chief executive of Rolls-Royce, and Sir Michael Rake, the chairman of BT.
Mr Sutherland, who has been at the helm of the oil giant since 1997, is willing to stay on for a few months until a successor is found, but not much longer.
Sources close to Mr Fitzgerald say he is interested in taking on one of the UK’s most prestigious industrial jobs. He was chairman and chief executive of Unilever, after working for the Anglo-Dutch household goods group for more than three decades, and chairman of Reuters until it merged with Thomson two years ago to create the world’s biggest multimedia news agency. After the merger, he took on the deputy chair.
While Mr Fitzgerald does not have direct experience of the oil industry, he has operated on an international level for more than 30 years at Unilever, overseeing 400 brands through 200 subsidiaries. He is interested in the environment – a big issue for BP – through his work as chairman of the Investment Climate Facility for Africa and serves on the International Business Council, the World Economic Forum, China’s Tsinghua University, as well as advising Morgan Stanley.
One of the criteria in the search for a new chairman was that the candidate should be able to serve for a 10-year term, another reason why the search has taken so long, as few industrialists have been willing to make such a commitment or are young enough.
BP had hoped Paul Skinner, chairman of Rio Tinto, would take the job but he has decided to stay at the mining company in an attempt to a quell an investor rebellion over the Chinalco deal. Other potential candidates included Sir John Parker, who is to step down as the chairman of the Court of the Bank of England, and who has ruled himself out, and Sir William Castell, a BP non-executive director and Wellcome Trust chairman.