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BP chief Tony Hayward rose on merit, tripped on crisis

It looks like it could be the end of the road for Tony Hayward, CEO of BP. His repeated communication gaffes and disastrous management of the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico have left the company’s board little choice but to find a successor.

At the beginning of the oil spill crisis, Tony Hayward, CEO of BP, declared that he wanted to “get his normal life back”. But now Hayward might have to get used to life without BP. The worst ecological crisis the US has ever known has brought the head of the British oil giant to what looks to be the end of his 28-year career with BP.
The company’s board is expected to make the decision on Monday, but according to rumours that leaked over the weekend, Hayward’s fate has already been sealed.
When he took over BP in 2007, Hayward indicated that his top priority would be to improve “security of operations” led by the group. He also said he would establish “a new benchmark in industrial safety in our industry”.

Hayward’s message fit the expectations of the era. BP was just emerging from two scandals. In 2005, 15 people were killed by an explosion in a Texas refinery, and in 2006, a leak caused an oil spill near Alaska.

A CEO with on-the-ground credentials

Tony Hayward was then selected by the board, who saw him as the antithesis of the sitting CEO, Lord John Browne of Madingley. Known for his passion for fine wines and his closeness to government ministers and other high-profile figures, Browne was out of sync with the more modest image that BP wanted to project at the time.

Hayward, on the other hand, had a background in geology and had steadily climbed the rungs of the company. He was presented as a man with practical experience, rather than a jet setter.

52-years-old today, he had indeed worked on oil platforms all over the world, from Venezuela to Russia to Scotland. Hayward was born in Reading, in southern England, and was the oldest of seven children. He got his doctorate in Geology, graduating at the top of his class.

Hayward’s impressive background elicited high hopes when he was appointed at the top of BP. And indeed, the company published record trimestrial results of 3.2 billion dollars just before the explosion of the oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico.

The oil slick has not only cast a shadow on Hayward’s focus on security, but has equally shown him to be incapable of communicating effectively during a crisis. His insensitive comments, as well as his attempts to minimise the catastrophe, have propelled him to the top of the current list of most loathed figures in the US.

It is no coincidence if Bob Dudley, who currently supervises BP operations in the US, is tipped to replace Hayward. He would be the first American to become head of BP. The gesture would be clearly intended to appease American public opinion.

The sting of Hayward's fall may be at least somewhat lessened by the financial conditions of his departure. Under BP's terms of employment, Hayward would be entitled to one year's salary, or 1.045 million pounds ($1.6 million), and he could be in line for additional payouts under the company's incentive scheme, which awards shares options.  He  would also keep his pension entitlements, which were worth 10.8 million pounds at the end of last year.

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