What this boss can teach you about surviving a crisis

It's been a tough few years for Premier Oil CEO Tony Durrant.

by Stephen Jones and Lawrie Holmes
Last Updated: 27 Aug 2019

Knowing how to deal with a crisis is a necessary part of a CEO’s toolkit, albeit one that most would hope they never have to use.

Tony Durrant, CEO of FTSE 250 Premier Oil, has had no such luck. 

He might have dodged "the apocalypse" when he left a 20-year career at Lehman Brothers to join the London-based oil and gas producer as CFO in 2005, but Durrant soon found himself in choppy waters after an ill-timed venture to exploit the Solan Oilfield near the Shetland coast.

The firm would survive and Durrant would rise to CEO, but a global collapse in the price of crude oil between 2014 and 2016 left both of their futures in doubt, wiping 96 per cent off Premier’s market value.

An audacious but successful investment plan has helped him steer the business through the storm, and now it’s full steam ahead as Premier sets about paying off its debts and exploring new opportunities in the Gulf of Mexico.

Durrant says when the going gets tough, these three things are essential for any business to survive. 

Keep control of events 

"Shareholders can be very impatient for information. They want to know why you’re not issuing a press release today or telling them about progress. But sometimes it may mean missing a deadline in order to get everything right.

"In that kind of situation, management has to take it on the chin and say: ‘I know you want it finished but we’ll do it when we can.’"

A supportive board is essential

"We were very lucky in that we had strong support from the board throughout the process, and that included when the banks wanted to make board changes. 

"Individuals who had supported the company throughout said: ‘Look, if it helps, I’m happy to step down.’ Keeping the board and executive team together was vitally important." 

Corporate culture makes a difference

"There’s a very good culture at Premier. A lot of people joined from the industry majors because the direct access to decision-making is greater at an independent. 

"I don’t recall any employees becoming unhelpful. Quite the opposite. It was an industry crisis as well, so people knew why it was happening and were pulling together to get us out of it."

Image credit: John M Lund Photography Inc via Getty images


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