It was five years ago that Sir John Browne (then plain Mr) first spoke at the Judge Institute, Cambridge; now he was back to report on how the 'Beyond Petroleum' idea was progressing. The concept, he insisted, was part of a new vision. Before speaking, the slight, dapper Browne surveyed his audience carefully. He knew it contained many who see it as their life's work to antagonise oil companies.
His speech, if long, was measured and well thought through. Browne is intellectually rigorous and although he chooses his words carefully he pulls no punches. Twenty minutes in came the killer. He railed at pressure groups who are accountable to no-one; large corporates and governments are different - they have constituencies to whom they must answer. His company is made up of individuals who 'do not come into work each morning to destroy the world'. There's leadership for you - championing your employees.
As for style, he did read his speech but it was properly rehearsed. And Sir John came across as a master of his subject. For my money he was a little too buttoned up. He should get out more. But he was believable and sincere, and even those who deplore global companies might sleep easier knowing that Browne is in charge of one of the biggest.
Key moment: The revelation that in the past 10 years a fifth of the top 500 firms have disappeared through merger and acquisition.
Key lesson: The curse of reading a speech is that you can fall into predictably rhythmic speech patterns. Make sure you stress only the correct words so you maintain audience interest.
- Silver tongue or foot in mouth? (Silver tongue).