awards

The Lord Browne of Madingley Group Chief Executive, BP p. l. c.
March 27, 2007
Rabbi Schneier, Charlie, Ladies and Gentlemen

It is a great privilege to be here and to be honoured in this way.

The work of this foundation over forty years is remarkable, and a great tribute to your vision and your determination in pursuing that vision, and in drawing together so many people from different walks of life in support of your objectives.

Some of those people are here. There are too many to name them all but it is a tremendous tribute to you that we have in the room tonight some of the most important international leaders of our times - Ambassador Negroponte from the State Department, Paul Wolfowitz from the World Bank and Lloyd Blankfein from Goldman Sachs.

Ladies and Gentlemen, as a chief executive, you are usually invited to talk about topics of economics and engineering – about the price of oil, the technology of a new development, the financial performance of the business you run.

That’s necessary and it is what people want to hear about – facts and numbers. I think it is important though to remember that behind all those facts and data points are individuals and families – human beings.

And that’s what I’d like to focus on this evening.

Because your commitment to freedom, democracy and human rights as the fundamental values that give nations their best hope for peace, security and shared prosperity is also grounded in a belief in people. The belief that people matter – that they are not just pieces on an economic chessboard, or pawns in an ideological struggle, and the belief that the potential for progress lies in the decisions and choices which individual human beings make.

I believe that at the heart of much conflict is the entirely false belief that people can be labelled with a single identity, and that everything they do is mechanistically determined by that identity.

So a Jew behaves in one way - a Muslim in another.

An American male has one set of beliefs and values – simply because he is an American; A Chinese woman a different set simply because she is Chinese.

So much conflict and distrust flows from that simple, easy, mistaken assumption, because from the assumption comes an expectation of behaviour, and an exaggeration of difference.

People do not have single identities.

Everyone in this room has a multiple identity.

This issue has been raised most recently by Amartya Sen. His argument, which I apologise for over simplifying, is that the attachment to singular identity fosters conflict by emphasising difference.

Let me give you both a business and a personal perspective.

One of the features of the world of global markets is the changing relationship between individual, corporations and the nation state.

Previous generations of companies, certainly in our sector were effectively extensions of national power. They were American or British or French.

That created a clarity of identity.

But all that’s changing.
It is possible to be a British based company which employs almost four times more Americans than Britons and twice as many Russians as Americans. A company listed in London but predominantly owned here in the US and around the world, which is the largest investor in more than 20 major economies – including Russia, Egypt, Scotland, Algeria, Alaska.

It is possible to be a global financial institution, formally headquartered in America which is also one of the largest banks in China, and Britain and Latin America. A bank whose staff come from almost every country in the world.

The people who work for such companies are, of course, American, or British or Chinese or Egyptian. But that isn’t the limit of their identity. They are also professionals in their fields of expertise. They are part of entities which think and work on a worldwide basis and which being meritocratic are blind to nationality.

And, of course, they are many other things as well. They have families, religious views, passions and political opinions.

They have a multiple identity.
How can companies cope with this multiplicity of identity?
I believe they only cope and thrive by embracing the multiple identities.
can only really speak about my direct experience.
A decade ago we took an initiative to invest in Russia.

We invested as a foreign company and we learnt the hard way that doing that wouldn’t work. We learnt that people, however skilled and professional, didn’t want to cease being Russian. They were proud of their identity.

We learnt that to be successful we had to apply the principle of multiple identity. We couldn’t ask our Russian staff to become something which they are not. We learnt that there need be no incompatibility – no trade off - between being Russian and being the employee of an international company. We learnt to give people an extra identity rather than taking one away.

And the result has been a great business success.
But multiple identity isn’t just about global companies.
It is an issue for everyone – for every individual.
I can only really explain what I mean by multiple identity in very personal terms.
have multiple identities.
I’m a businessman with a British passport.
But the greatest influence on my life was my mother.
She was a young girl in what is now Eastern Europe before the war.
As a young woman she lived through the war and survived Auschwitz.
And then as a wife and mother married to a British soldier, she lived in Germany and England and later in other places round the world.

She instilled in me some important values – in personal trust – hard won but then enduring; in optimism – expressed as a belief in looking forward rather than back; in freedom of individual choice – so long as it does no harm to others; and in the rights of minorities and underdogs in the face of the bullies and those who seek to make people conform to their view of the world.

That is one set of multiple identities which I carry.
Over time I’ve added a few more.
Being educated first in the UK and then here in the United States.
Becoming a graduate in physics and then in engineering and then in business.
Being associated with universities including Stanford and Cambridge.
Being interested in music and photography and, to be less politically correct, in cigars.

My greatest pleasure is to move between these different identities and to see the links and the contrasts.

Everyone in this room has multiple identities. People can’t be boxed under a single heading. We all have a background, a family or friends, skills and experience, interests and beliefs.

My awareness of my own multiple identity influences both how I work and how I try to run the company.The oil industry used to be rather uniform, monochrome, though with much more white than black.

One of my ambitions has been to break out of the standard social, cultural, racial base which used to be the requirement for employment.

That ambition is influenced by my identities.

Another ambition is to use my abilities such as they are to help people whose identities are constrained by circumstances beyond their control.

one and a half billion people who live on less than a dollar a day.

The refugees and the asylum seekers.

The Jews and the homosexuals who at different times in history have been marked out – physically marked out – to make sure that everyone knew who they were – everyone knew their identity.

As I read about such people I can’t get out of my head the thought of my mother. At one point in her life she was a refugee and an asylum seeker. I can’t escape the influence of that identity and I don’t.

And that’s why it is such a privilege to be here tonight.

This organisation is dedicated to the belief that through dialogue we can break down the barriers which divide people, often quite unnecessarily, and which lead to conflict.

It is built on the belief that whatever the differences of background or faith there is more which unites two human beings, more which gives them a sense of common interest than can ever divide them.

In a complex, divided world that is an inspiring cause. And that is what makes this evening such a privilege for me.
Thank you very much.
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