Monday, July 26, 2010

BP: The new top kill

It was inevitable. Given what was and is at stake for a badly tarnished corporate identity and a severely polluted coastline, the pending dismissal of Tony Hayward from his post as the chief executive officer of BP plc has been for weeks not a case of if but a matter of when he got his life back.

The shoe dropped over the weekend, when numerous media reports stated that Hayward, the CEO whose short-sighted assessments of the damage wrought by his company combined with hamfisted attempts at sympathy, will be gone by Tuesday. That’s when the British energy giant is expected to release its financial results for the first full six months of 2010.

The Telegraph (UK) reported Sunday that Hayward “is finalising the details of his imminent exit from BP this weekend as the oil giant prepares to make an announcement on the chief executive's future possibly within the next 48 hours.”

Among the things to iron out: Hayward’s severance package, estimated in some reports at about $17 million.

◊ ◊ ◊

When the deal goes down, it will bring to an end one of the more calamitous public relations cockups in the history of modern business. Hayward effectively absented himself from his position weeks ago, weeks after the BP oil spill that asphyxiated the Gulf of Mexico and endangered the unique habitat and the life it supported. In mid-May, while oil was still rushing into the water, he told an interviewer that he thought the environmental impact from the spill was “likely to be very modest.”

The real soundbite zinger came on May 31, when Hayward said nobody wanted this over more than him and “I want my life back.” Even his R&R was problematic; in mid-June, at the crisis’ height, Hayward went on vacation, taking in a yacht race while the Gulf of Mexico was in the environmental ER.

“Hayward hit all the negatives,” said Mike Paul, image consultant and president of PR firm MGP & Associates, to CBS News. “He did everything wrong from a crisis management perspective.”

He’ll never make that mistake again. News outlets reported early Sunday, with little or no hedging, that Hayward’s replacement would be Bob Dudley, BP’s managing director and a man previously shortlisted for the job Hayward’s about to vacate.

Dudley, a relative newcomer to BP’s highest levels (he joined the board less than two years ago), may be just the fresher blood the company needs in dealing with this crisis. Even-tempered but accessible at the microphone, Dudley has imparted an inner calm to his contacts with media that Hayward never had (partly, of course, because Dudley's inherited this mess, as opposed to being at the helm when it happened). He's still a Company Man, but maybe we can deal with him.

◊ ◊ ◊

Shock observed in June, when Dudley first took Hayward’s place before the microphones as the face of BP:
Dudley starts with at least two advantages right from the start: First, he’s an American citizen, something that matters given the whiffs of anti-British sentiment starting to rise in the wake of the spill. For all BP’s avowed concerns, it just looks good for a company as big as BP to have someone out front on this crisis with the skin-in-the-game of citizenship.

And then there’s the regional factor: Dudley hails from Hattiesburg, Miss., where he lived as a child, The AP reported on Sunday. That connection may be from long ago, but considering Hayward’s dismal lackluster performances with a British accent, giving BP the voice of a son of the South might calm the waters. At least a little.
We’ll see about that last part. Life is still too raw for the working people of the Gulf region to think about doing any Cajun-flavored Kum Ba Yah with BP right now. For them, Hayward’s formal removal is a step in the right direction.

◊ ◊ ◊

Hayward will certainly rebound somewhere in the world of business; the talent that got him to the top of a major energy superconglomerate is rare enough. Maybe he’ll take some of that $17 million and put his money where his mouth (and his company’s money) have been: into a private fund earmarked for residents of the Gulf states whose bays and estuaries he helped damage, whose livelihoods he helped endanger.

Wherever he turns up, the next Tony Hayward will be a lot more attuned to the need for sensitivity in public relations; he’ll know that smug assurances are no replacement for a command of the facts. He’ll know that appearances matter, that yachts in leisure and shrimp boats in distress don’t mix.

And when he goes sailing again in the unpolluted waters off the coast of England, X-thousand nautical miles from the Gulf of Mexico, maybe it’ll hit him that the tens of thousands of shrimp, birds, turtles, pelicans, oystermen, shrimp boat captains, charter boat captains, deckhands, marina workers, office workers, restaurant owners, dishwashers, waitresses, store owners, stock clerks, families and the 11 oil-rig operators who died on April 20th want their lives back too.

Image credits: Tony Hayward, Bob Dudley: Via The Huffington Post. BP logo: BP plc.

Update, July 28: Hayward may have to wait awhile before his next sailing adventure. Reports have surfaced that the embattled BP chief executive officer, who steps down on Oct. 1, will remain with the company, having been named one of three non-executive directors of TNK-BP, the BP joint venture with Russian investors. His shift to duty in Siberia will be a comfortable one; Hayward will reportedly earn about $1.6 million a year at his new post. (Image: Dominic Lipinski/BPPA)

No comments:

Post a Comment

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...