Tony Hayward, a Strong and Robust Leader?!

Tony Hayward

When a CEO is a public relations liability, his leading skills are questionable. Iain Conn, BP’s head of refining and marketing has a different opinion.

“Tony is leading this company in a very strong and robust way. He’s a remarkably resilient person and he has our full support,” he said, in a statement cited by Bloomberg Businessweek.

But Tony Hayward’s past actions, and the current market value of the company contradict Conn’s optimistic remarks. Of course, BP will stand behind its boss for as long as necessary, at least for as long as needed to keep the media sharks quiet. But this strategy will not work if Tony Hayward ever comes back as the public face of the company. The media simply loves to dissect his statements and to find the negative connotations, even where no negative intent is present. And to be honest, Hayward brought this upon himself.

BP has lost 54 percent of its market value since the April 20 explosion aboard the Deepwater Horizon, and part of this is Hayward’s own fault. His PR gaffes painted a BP that failed to keep its promises, a company that never cared about the 11 lives lost in the accident, a company that was apparently trying to avoid taking responsibility for the spill. There was no real concern for the environment, and the attention focused on the people in the area who lost their bread was minimal.

On top of everything, when people were scared about their future, BP paid millions for TV ads the world has grown to hate. They hired lobbyists, while denying media access at the site of the spill, and the list could go on. Clearly, a propagandist strategy doomed to fail from the start.

To describe Tony Hayward as a strong and robust leader is not only naive, but misleading. This whole deal is already costing BP billions. BP has already spent $2.65 billion on trying to clear up the spill, and has agreed with President Obama’s request to deposit $20 billion in an independent account to pay for Gulf restoration and compensation claims. Costs for cleaning up the spill will continue to rise. Add to this the loss of market share and you can no longer define BP (or its CEO) as strong and robust. And by no means viable.

Conn is smart and sings the same old BP tune, yet his interpretation is better. If you remember, I already predicted that BP we’ll take the “we are the heroes” approach sooner or later. From TV ads featuring Hayward with the promise to make it better, to Conn’s own “maybe BP is not 100% responsible” everything follows a pattern:

“We clearly have a share of responsibility and we’ve taken it,” he said. “We’ve been absolutely public about that. Maybe BP is not 100 percent responsible, but right now we are just doing what we believe is the right thing.”

In all honesty, I was expecting BP to stop the spill in a mater of days, and to this date I cannot understand why they cannot do it. But I don’t judge their technical abilities, my concern is focused on the way they mislead and continue to mislead the public, the media and even the White House.

And when it comes to BP’s real PR problem, this is not Tony Hayward.

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