Lord Browne and Paul Wolfowitz might want to have a talk about work and life. An imbalance of the two has got them both in trouble.
Browne resigned as head of BP on Tuesday after admitting to lying on oath in an ultimately vain effort to keep unflattering details of a love affair out of the public eye. Browne had attempted to prohibit a UK newspaper from publishing articles by Jeff Chevalier, with whom he had had a love affair. Wolfowitz could be forced out from the top of the World Bank for breaking the bank’s policy by arranging a sweetheart employment contract of a highly paid secondment for his lover.
Of course, the two cases are quite different, and not only because Browne is gone, while Wolfowitz is still clinging onto his job. Browne’s offence is more serious. Anyone can be a hypocrite, as Wolfowitz has been in his harsh words on corruption when it occurs elsewhere. But an admission of perjury is another matter, especially for a chief executive who faces lawsuits in the US over a fatal industrial accident.
But the two falls from professional grace have two common features, besides their connection with love affairs. First, both men were extremely arrogant. Browne’s boasting seems to have irritated the judge almost as much as his lying. Wolfowitz’s know-it-all attitude was famous when he was deputy secretary of defence, in which post he helped drag the US into war in Iraq.
Second, both men made too many professional enemies to be permitted personal mistakes. Before details of his affair came out, Browne was involved in a power struggle with his chairman, Peter Sutherland, and several outside board members. Wolfowitz had angered pretty much everyone inside and outside the World Bank.
The two falls from grace offer a lesson about success and excess. No one gets to the top without ample doses of passion, confidence and even arrogance. But in excess, those qualities can also lead to trouble. Private passions used to be another question, but no longer, at least not for the rich and powerful. Such pleasures can be dangerous, especially when there are enemies ready to exploit them.