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BP close to naming acting CEO Auchincloss as permanent chief

Directors of BP were meeting on Tuesday evening to finalise the appointment of Murray Auchincloss, the company’s acting chief executive, as its permanent boss.

Sky News can reveal that the FTSE-100 oil major's board has gathered at a central London hotel to agree the details of Mr Auchincloss's appointment as the successor to Bernard Looney.

The decision is likely to be announced later on Tuesday or before the London stock market opens on Wednesday morning.

If confirmed, it will prolong BP's record of never having appointed an outsider to its top executive job in its 116-year history.

Mr Auchincloss has served on the company's board for about four years, having been appointed as finance chief under Mr Looney.

He is understood to have enjoyed strong support from institutional shareholders in BP during the recruitment process run by Helge Lund, the company's chairman.

Nevertheless, some investors had expressed hopes that Mr Lund would approach Charles Woodburn, the BAE Systems chief executive and a former oil company veteran, about becoming its next boss.

The decision not to hire an external candidate as its CEO for the first time in its 114-year history comes at an important time for BP strategically.

Under Mr Looney, the company had sought to reposition itself in an attempt to embrace the energy transition and dilute its focus on fossil fuels.

That pivot was not, though, universally endorsed by investors, with the valuation gap between BP and rival Shell widening in recent years.

On Tuesday, BP shares closed slightly down at 452.3p, giving it a market capitalisation of £77.8bn.

Shell is valued at more than £160bn.

BP's performance in recent years has led to renewed speculation that it could be a takeover target, although the UK government would have strong views about one of Britain's flagship companies becoming a subsidiary of a foreign oil major.

Rumours have also emerged periodically about a possible tie-up between BP and Shell, although there is no indication that such a suggestion has substance, despite BP's leadership hiatus.

BP has been engaged in a search for a new CEO since Mr Looney was forced out of the company in September after misleading its board about personal relationships with colleagues.

In December, the company said it had scrapped more than £32m in potential payments to Mr Looney, including more than £1m that he was instructed to repay to BP.

Reuters reported in the same month that Carol Howle, BP's head of trading and shipping, and Emma Delaney, head of customers and products, were the other internal candidates for the job.

Egon Zehnder International, the search firm, has been advising BP's board on the recruitment process.

Mr Lund had signalled that both internal and external candidates are being considered.

BP declined to comment.