June 8, 2009 11:46 pm

BP’s alternative energy chief to retire

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The head of BP’s alternative energy division is to retire at the end of the month as the company sharply scales back its rate of investment in the business.

Vivienne Cox, 49, chief executive of alternative energy, is BP’s most senior female executive. She previously ran the larger gas, power and renewables segment, which was broken up in a restructuring launched by Tony Hayward, the company’s chief executive who took over two years ago.

She will be replaced by Katrina Landis, who has in effect been her deputy as chief operating officer in the alternatives division, which includes biofuels, wind farms, manufacturing solar modules, and power stations that capture and store their carbon dioxide emissions.

BP has been criticised by environmentalists for failing to live up to the promise of its “beyond petroleum” slogan, introduced in 2000 under Lord Browne, the previous chief executive, and retained by Mr Hayward.

The company insists it has not weakened in its commitment to building up alternative energy. In 2005, it set out a plan to invest $8bn in alternatives by 2015, and so far has been running ahead of schedule.

But the rate of investment, which was rising fast in 2007-08, is now being scaled back. Capital spending on alternatives was $1.4bn last year and is expected to be just $500m-$1bn this year. BP has also been cutting costs, especially in its solar business.

A plan to bring in outside investors for the business has been shelved indefinitely, although BP has not abandoned the idea in principle.

BP announced the retirement internally. The news was uncovered by Women-omics.com, a website covering women and employment. Ms Cox spent 28 years with the company and has been working flexibly to have more time with her family.

In a newspaper interview in 2006, she said of the competing demands of work and her children, then aged seven and two: “If that gets out of balance and I don’t have enough time to spend with my kids then I just get so completely ineffective.”

Her decision follows the recent departure of Linda Cook, the most senior female executive at Royal Dutch Shell.

Avivah Wittenberg-Cox, a consultant and publisher of Women-omics.com, said the “female brain drain” at BP and Shell “threatens to deter women from entering the oil and gas sector”.

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