Vivienne Cox, BP's highest ranking female executive, has resigned - only weeks after rival Shell's top woman also quit. The 49-year-old Cox was head of the oil giant's alternative energy division, which has suffered recent investment cuts.
A BP lifer, Cox joined the firm 26 years ago after reading chemistry at Oxford University and is now set to leave at the end of this month. One of the most senior women in the oil business, Cox was a former winner of the Veuve Clicquot Businesswoman of the Year award and also featured in MT's very own list of Fifty Most Powerful Businesswomen back in in 2004.
Coming as it does so shortly after the abrupt departure of her oppo at Shell - former head of gas and power Linda Cook - it's a double blow for the cause of senior female executives, whose presence at the very highest level of UK plc has waned somewhat recently after years of slow but steady advance (although the good news is that Ms Cox's not-inconsiderable shoes will be filled by her chief operating officer, Katrina Landis). Cook resigned late last month after the appointment of new chief executive Peter Voser, in what has been portrayed as a 'mutual decision' but is rumoured to be down to her failure to land the top spot.
During a distinguished career with BP, Cox spearheaded the company's £4bn investment into renewable energies - her departure coincides with BP's apparent change of heart over the ongoing significance of alternative energy in its portfolio. She was even named as a potential successor to 'Sun King' Lord Browne before his ignominious departure as CEO in 2007.
BP has been quick to assert that all remains rosy in the oil field, saying there had been 'no falling out... [Ms Cox was a] superb executive who will be much missed.' The firm also denied having reduced its commitment to renewable energy.
Many in that sector will find her departure concerning nonetheless, fearing that tough economic times may be encouraging the likes of BP to stick with what it knows and avoid risky - but potentially very important - new technologies. A view which the loss of a champion of Cox's undoubted reputation is likely to reinforce.
In today's bulletin:
Is Northern Rock back on the block?
Setanta proving a turn-off for investors
Halfords pedals up profits as commuters get on their bikes
BP's top woman Vivienne Cox resigns
MT Special: Deborah Meaden on what makes a good entrepreneur