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A Leggate Up

A Leggate Up

Enter John Leggate

The CIO job at BP opened up in 1998, during the dotcom frenzy. John Cross, Browne's IT chief and a 23-year BP veteran, was leaving to join an Internet venture. Browne knew he needed a CIO with a deep knowledge of his company's philosophy, a willingness to launch a massive systems integration project while cutting costs wherever possible and, most of all, someone as daring as himself.

Enter John Leggate, fresh from a year as president of BP's Azerbaijan operations, where he had been part of a team negotiating a multibillion-dollar pipeline deal across the Caucasus Mountains - a project that inspired the James Bond movie The World Is Not Enough. An engineer by training, with no specific IT experience, the ebullient Scotsman had built nuclear power plants before joining BP, and then run North Sea oil rigs. He had even revamped the company's HR department but had never implemented an ERP system or negotiated an IT outsourcing deal. Leggate, however, had built a reputation as a tough manager not afraid to cut costs and invest in technology to boost productivity. Browne admired Leggate's work in the North Sea and Azerbaijan and made him CIO in January of 1999, just as the BP-Amoco deal was closing.

So began a partnership that's lasted five years and counting. It's a relationship in which the CIO embodies the CEO's philosophy. Leggate has responded to the challenge by acting decisively as a cost-cutter in mergers; as a risk-taker in trying out new Internet and wireless technologies; and as a pragmatist in seeking payback for those investments. All the while, Leggate, part of BP's senior leadership team, has pushed hard for top executives to consider IT's importance to BP's vision.

In action, that means that during the Amoco merger Leggate and his group - dubbed the digital business team - quickly found duplication within BP and Amoco's IT departments and slashed redundant jobs and programs (BP declines to give a specific count). The team has worked non-stop at integrating processes and systems while outsourcing dozens of key IT services. And for Leggate's part, since the start of the year, he has personally assured Browne and other top managers that BP's $2.3 billion IT budget is spent in areas that will bring maximum return.

In a profession where an average tenure is four years and nine months, Leggate's five years as BP's CIO provides lessons in managing up, in leading by example and in keeping a focus on corporate goals. For starters, it helps to be driven. Leggate, like his boss, says he likes to do things ahead of competitors. He says that BP is a first-mover because "it's in the genes", adding that "time and time again, it is shown there are no prizes for coming in second".

Drilling for Savings

BP's headquarters, a stone's throw from Buckingham Palace, faces Saint James's Square, one of London's oldest and most prestigious addresses. Dukes and earls populated the square in the early 18th century and both Generals Eisenhower and de Gaulle made their World War II headquarters here. Inside BP's offices, however, all remnants of England's history are replaced by its ultramodern, open floor-plan architecture. Earnest looking, nattily dressed executives scurry up and down curved stairways that lead to floors of clutter-free desks, surrounded by small, glass-panelled offices. At the top of the open stairwell lie the executive suites of Browne, who was knighted in 1998 and has since been known as Lord Browne of Madingley. A few floors below, Leggate (who recently was named a Commander of the British Empire, one step below knighthood) works at a laptop in his spare office.

Dressed in a crisp dark suit and bright blue tie, Leggate likes to talk about his interest in technology and BP's accomplishments but is self-effacing and vague when asked about his own background. "It's not about me, it's about what my team has done," he says in his lilting Scottish accent.

This much he'll confirm: Leggate got his start in the energy field constructing nuclear power plants before joining British Petroleum in 1979. At BP, he made his name as an executive who could take on a problem and quickly produce results. "The CIO job came as a complete surprise," says Leggate. "I have a wide range of experiences, which allows me to interact with the businesses and relate to and understand their challenges not as an outsider, but as someone who's done it himself. That's a great selling point for a CIO."

Leggate was surprised to be a CIO candidate, but unbeknownst to him, his predecessor had eyed him as a possible successor. When John Cross left BP in 1998 to form his own Internet consultancy, the company considered a broad search. Cross remembered Leggate's interest in technology and says he was particularly struck by Leggate's work running an ageing North Sea oilfield. Leggate needed to slash costs, but instead of cutting across the board, he decided to boost spending in technology designed to help automate the drilling process. The result: a more automated oilfield that continued to produce crude and revenue. "John was always proactive in deploying technology," Cross says. When asked about his IT investments while working on oil and gas fields, Leggate says: "I used to bet on technology even in a down market."

Cross proposed Leggate's name to Browne, who approved it over the objections of a couple of managers who baulked at losing one of their top executives. On a trip back to London from Azerbaijan, Leggate met with Browne and accepted the CIO job just as the company was starting the Amoco merger. "I have a good track record of bringing things together," Leggate says, theorizing on why he was chosen for the job. "I'm good at driving base costs, finding value and making the whole thing work." To the point: BP was using 10,000 software applications across the company when he became CIO. Within a year, they had scrapped 3000 and hired outside contractors to manage another 5000.

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