BP hoping new boss from US can help rebuild image

27th July 2010, Comments 0 comments

BP's new boss Bob Dudley was raised in the United States in a state hit by the Gulf of Mexico oil spill -- a background which the oil giant hopes will boost its image after Tony Hayward's departure.

The 54-year-old American was named on Tuesday as the firm's new chief executive after Hayward stepped down amid public outrage over the spill.

Although he will move to BP's London headquarters for the role, Dudley, who was raised in Mississippi, repeated his commitment to the region.

"In this change of roles, I particularly want the people of the Gulf Coast to know that my commitment to remediation and restitution in the region is not lessened," he said on Tuesday.

"I gave a promise to make it right and I will keep that promise."

Dudley, who was already in charge of the clean-up operation, is seen as a safe pair of hands with a wealth of experience. BP chairman Carl-Henric Svanberg has described him as a "robust operator".

Since taking control of the London-based firm's response to the oil spill last month, Dudley has taken a more conciliatory tone than his predecessor.

Gaffe-prone Hayward, a Briton, was sharply criticised in the United States, including by President Barack Obama, for blunders like saying he wanted his life back and joining a yacht race in Britain during the crisis.

"I grew up swimming and fishing off of the coast," Dudley told reporters in June after touring some of the oil-fouled areas in Louisiana.

"What I saw was painful and emotional and shocking. The images are disturbing on television, but when you see it first-hand it becomes personal."

Dudley has also admitted that the clean-up effort "has not been perfect" and acknowledged that the spill "will change the oil industry forever".

Accepting his new post Tuesday, Dudley said he was "honoured to be given the job of rebuilding BP's strengths and reputation but sad at the circumstances", paying tribute to his predecessor.

"I do not underestimate the nature of the task ahead, but the company is financially robust with an enviable portfolio of assets and professional teams that are among the best in the industry," he said.

"I believe this combination -- allied to clear, strategic direction -- will put BP on the road to recovery."

Before taking over as chief executive, Dudley's most high-profile job was as president and CEO of TNK-BP, the firm's joint venture with a group of Russian billionaires and Russia's third largest oil and gas company.

Dudley was ousted following a bitter management power struggle between the British and Russian shareholders which soured ties between London and Moscow.

He started the job in 2003, was forced out of Russia in 2008 and stepped down later that year, to be replaced by a Russian.

Before that, Dudley was responsible for BP's upstream businesses in countries including Russia, Angola, Algeria and Egypt and worked for Amoco before its merger with BP in 1998.

Such global experience once prompted Hayward to describe Dudley as "the (BP) management team's foreign secretary -- or perhaps secretary of state in American terms."

He will need all his powers of diplomacy to steer BP, which has lost around 40 percent of its market value since the spill, through the troubled period ahead.

It faces hundreds of pending lawsuits, not to mention hearings into the cause of the April 20 rig blast that should determine eventual liability, while the size of Hayward's severance package is also likely to raise eyebrows.

The firm is also facing additional controversy over claims, which it denies, that its lobbying helped secure the release of the Lockerbie bomber in order to secure a lucrative exploration deal with Libya.

The US Senate Foreign Relations Committee is set to investigate the allegations in a hearing Thursday.

Dudley was born in New York and is the son of a US naval officer. He has been married for 30 years, has two children and lives in London.

He has degrees from the University of Illinois, Thunderbird School of Global Management in Arizona and Southern Methodist University in Texas.

BP added Tuesday that Dudley will hand over his present duties to Lamar McKay, who is currently chairman and president of BP America.

© 2010 AFP

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