LONDON — BP's chief executive is stepping down by the end of July -- more than a year ahead of schedule -- after a series of high-profile problems including a deadly refinery blast in Texas and a giant oil spill in Alaska tarnished the image of one of the world's largest oil companies.
BP said Friday that Chief Executive John Browne, 58, would be succeeded by Tony Hayward, the head of exploration and production.
Hayward, 49, who will take over Aug. 1, will be faced with the difficult task of trying to repair the company's reputation with investors and the public.
Browne, whose future has been the subject of intense speculation, announced in July that he would step down at the end of 2008.
Browne joined the company in 1966 and worked his way up, taking the top job in 1995. He oversaw BP's expansion in the United States, which involved a number of takeovers, including the 1998 purchase of Amoco and the subsequent acquisitions of Arco and Castrol.
During Browne's tenure as CEO, BP said, the company saw a fivefold increase in its market capitalization to $202.7 billion.
But BP said this week that production in the fourth quarter was unlikely to change compared with the previous three months, after more than a year of declining output.
Browne's attempts to fashion BP as environmentally friendly -- he was the first major oil company CEO to acknowledge global warming and masterminded BP's logo change from a shield to a flowerlike sunburst with the slogan "Beyond Petroleum" -- were undermined by the company's recent U.S. troubles.
BP was forced to temporarily close some of its operations at the Prudhoe Bay oil field in Alaska because of a major pipeline spill in August. The 2005 explosion at its Texas refinery that killed 15 workers has so far cost the company about $2 billion in compensation payouts, repairs and lost profit.