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Hayward’s loose lips point to bigger problem

Deposed BP boss a sign that moral decay is at centre of corporate culture

Jul 27, 2010

by Paul Marck

Deposed boss a sign that moral decay is at centre of BP’s corporate culture

By Paul Marck

Nobody should feel sorry for departed BP honcho Tony Hayward. With a $1.6-million severance, $17.5-million pension package and cushy consulting gig with BP in Russia — far from the world’s prying eyes, the former pointman in the Gulf of Mexico oil spill disaster is finally getting his wish. He has his life back. Too bad the same can’t be said for the shrimpers, resort operators, residents and everyone else affected by BP’s alleged gross negligence in the Macondo well blowout.

And let us not put too fine a line on the environmental consequences, which will leave a legacy of filth and a despoiled ecology that will take decades, if not hundreds of years to reverse. As CEO on whose watch this all unfolded, Tony Hayward will wear the goat horns in perpetuity. At best, he will be consigned to history as something of a bumbler and stumbler in terms of the corporate response to the catastrophe. At worst, he will be branded a despised villain and pillager of the environment.

It could have been  different. Perhaps not the disaster itself. If proven to be the result of corporate malfeasance or negligence, there will be no altering the historical account of BP’s carelessness. Tony Hayward’s missteps are legion, in terms of accountability. From his initial, casual dismissive stance about the severity of the disaster and declaring its consequences to be “very, very modest” to shifting blame to partners — some of it justified — or lax regulations, his actions speak loud and long to an attitude of corporate arrogance. Taking flight mid-disaster to watch a yacht race with his son, to voicing perhaps his worst public utterance about wanting to have his life back, Hayward endeared himself to no one. Instead, he alienated himself and BP from the entire global community. It takes monumental stupidity on an unprecedented scale to accomplish such vilification.

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Hayward’s performance was so incredibly idiotic, one can’t help believe that he espoused the virtues and values of a corporate culture that has lost its moral centre. But if you don’t see the rot in the first place, it is difficult to assess how to do the right thing.

Incoming BP CEO Bob Dudley has talked about changing the global behemoth’s corporate culture. One can only hope that he has influence and intestinal fortitude to make it happen. Whomever you wish to point fingers at, it will take a mighty effort to disperse the notion that the hand of evil has been at work here.

The Gulf disaster presents a grim lesson for CEOs in Alberta’s energy sector. Let’s hope they’re paying attention to this clarion call. The oil sands are a tremendous resource, but gaps in public policy and corporate practice have  demonstrated with visceral clarity that there remains so much more to do on environmental issues. To safeguard the ecology as well as reputations, benign platitudes from faceless corporate monoliths will not convince the world that we are doing the right thing by Northern Alberta.

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One Response to Hayward’s loose lips point to bigger problem

  1. John says:

    Well said Paul. One point – it should be noted that most CEO’s are trained in certain skills and excel in certain business situations. Perhaps Tony’s strengths were in the board room negotiating for himself or working the broad plans at a high level.

    I would suggest that many CEO’s at corporations as large as BP (and some not as large) would equally fail in similar disaster scenarios – simply because they are not educated on how to communicate with front line issues such as the Gulf Disaster (without having so many PR people and other VPs around to field the questions). Perhaps too many years at the ‘top level’ CEOs from the bulk of reality.

    In the end – Tony has a large amount of money – but no integrity. Integrity is a tough one to ‘buy’.

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