BP chief executive Hayward pays price for oil spill

27th July 2010, Comments 0 comments

Tony Hayward took over as BP chief executive in 2007 with a promise of a greener and safer future for the energy giant, but he leaves tarred by having overseen its worst ever oil spill.

BP confirmed Tuesday that Hayward was stepping down in October, calling time on a career that began when he joined the firm as a young gelogist in 1982.

It was only three years ago that Hayward took over from his scandal-mired predecessor with the promise of a fresh start and a vow to forge a greener, safer future for the energy giant after a number of ecological disasters.

But this promise proved hollow when the BP-leased Deepwater Horizon rig exploded and sank in the Gulf of Mexico in April, killing 11 workers and causing a massive oil spill that reached the shores of five US states.

And while a PhD in geology and three decades of experience ensured Hayward knew BP's business inside out, he appeared ill-equipped to be its public face during the crisis and a series of gaffes swiftly made him a US hate figure.

He said Tuesday he would always feel a "deep responsibility" for the spill, "regardless of where blame is ultimately found to lie" -- adding that he was "sorry" that BP's record "has been overshadowed by the tragedy".

But while the 53-year-old was seen as an effective leader, his handling of the crisis made his departure inevitable as BP sought to recover from the disaster that has shattered its reputation -- and its profits.

In what would become the first of a series of gaffes, Hayward was forced to apologise shortly after the oil spill for a "hurtful and thoughtless" remark about the toll it was taking on him.

"There's no one who wants this to be over more than I do, I want my life back," he had said, to the outrage of Gulf coast residents who were watching their livelihoods disappear under a black slick.

Hayward also had to row back from claims that the environmental impact of the spill would be "very, very modest" -- it is now considered the worst environmental crisis in US history.

He was taken to task by the White House for sailing his yacht off the Isle of Wight, a favoured past-time he shares with his former BP geologist wife and their two children, as the waters of the Gulf choked with oil.

And when he was summoned to appear at a Congressional hearing last month to explain the disaster, lawmakers accused him of being obstructive.

Although a temporary cap has stopped the leaking oil, commentators said Hayward's departure was a necessary sacrifice.

"When a company suffers a calamity on the scale of that experienced by BP, there is a need for some sort of catharsis. There must be a visible sign of change," said an editorial in the Financial Times.

His successor will be Bob Dudley, a senior BP manager in the United States who took over the management of the oil spill last month.

Born in southern England on May 21, 1957, Hayward received his PhD in geology from Scotland and joined BP as a geologist on a North Sea rig in 1982.

He rose through the ranks, working in Europe, Asia and South America, before becoming chief treasurer, then head of exploration and production, and finally group chief executive in 2007.

He took over from John Browne, considered one of the greatest businessmen of his generation but ousted after losing a legal battle to conceal his homosexuality.

Browne oversaw the rebranding of BP to give it an environmentally-friendly face, but his 12-year tenure was marred by the 2005 explosion of a Texas refinery, which left five dead, and a 2006 pipeline leak in Alaska.

When he was appointed, Hayward said his priority was the "continued improvement in the safety of our operations everywhere in the world", he told the company's internal magazine.

He said he also sought to "conduct BP's business in a way that is in tune with the world -- working with local communities, developing our local employees and conducting our operations without damaging the environment".

But for many, the Gulf of Mexico spill has made a mockery of those pledges, and Hayward paid the price.

© 2010 AFP

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