Hayward out…too little, too late?

It’s been 99 days since the explosion of Deepwater Horizon. Today, BP confirmed that Tony Hayward will step down as CEO on October 1, to be replaced by managing director Robert Dudley.

The oil spill catastrophe has severely impacted marine life and wildlife, put fishermen in the Gulf out of work and has caused turmoil within the tourism industry in the region.  BP also has suffered – stock prices have taken a tumble and the company’s reputation is pretty much in the toilet.

BP is estimating the well’s permanent closure will happen sometime between August and October, but the damage has already been done to the environment and to the company.

In a move that seems obvious and calculated, BP is claiming it has come to a “mutual agreement” with Hayward to step down from his position. Well at least Hayward can now have his life back – but for BP is it too little, too late?

This fiasco has been going on for months and it is a classic example of crisis communication at its worst. There have been allegations of lies, negative stories every hour about warnings that were ignored, altered photos and so many fruitless attempts at capping the spill that most people are even skeptical about this final attempt. I’m curious to see what happens by October.

Hayward has never been a great spokesperson, always pointing the finger at other issues and never really positioning BP as fully taking responsibility, but will a new CEO repair the damage that’s already been done? I’m not a huge Hayward fan, but the complete blame can’t singlehandedly fall on his shoulders. There are a lot of players involved and throwing the CEO under the bus and hiding him in Russia (he’ll be working for a TNK-BP) is not exactly going to make everything peachy keen.

The company has announced a net loss of $16.97 billion during the second quarter of 2010 and the oil spill so far has put them out $32.2 billion and they’re still spending money. I don’t envy Dudley and what he’s walking into. I’m not sure what he can do at this point to restore the tarnished BP image. He has said his top priority is to seal the oil well for good (25th times the charm?) and cleaning up the Gulf. Good luck!

I’m interested to see what if anything changes with this new leadership. At the end of the day, most people really have no idea who is conducting the BP train, but they do have a visceral reaction to the BP logo and name. BP, the brand, has been damaged – neither Hayward, being in or out, or Dudley can change that because people associate the name and likeness with oil, disaster, dead animals and polluted beaches. Short of a re-brand and launch of a completely new company, I don’t know how BP can come back this – new CEO or not. Only time will tell.

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One thought on “Hayward out…too little, too late?

  1. BP will be forever linked with this disaster, just as Exxon will be for the Valdez incident. Yes, a change was made at the top. Regardless of whether it is Hayward, Dudley, or Mickey Mouse, BP’s public image will never be the same. They can’t really say they care about the environment in any PR/marketing campaign because, well, take a look at the Gulf.
    Like you said… GOOD LUCK!
    Terrific post!

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