An American to Run BP - Fresh Leadership or Fresh Face?


Recently it was announced BP’s Tony Hayward has resigned following mounting public pressure on the organization – there has even been increasing momentum for boycotting BP gas stations in the US. It is clear Hayward’s handling of the disaster was far from ideal, reinforcing the idea that CEO’s should be masters of Public Relations as well as general management and leadership. However, rather than dissecting his public fall from grace, let’s take a look at the executive chosen to turn-around the troubled organization.

An American CEO - Robert Dudley

Robert Dudley is due to succeed Tony Hayward as the CEO of BP on October 1st. Arguably, the most important aspect to this leadership change, is that Robert Dudley is an American with an excellent career history working in regions across the world. He is also currently serving as President and CEO of BP's Gulf Coast Restoration organisation. However, there is one more quality highlighted by Fadel Gheit, managing director of oil and gas research at Oppenheimer & Co. that makes him a suitable successor to Tony Hayward – he is ‘more of a diplomat’.

Having an American CEO and leadership figure is extremely important, considering 25 of 40 projects planned before 2015 are based in the gulf area. Dudley will have to work hard to secure BP’s future in that region - only a strong diplomat who can work well with the US government could achieve this. In addition, being an ‘American face’ will make it easier for BP to win back the trust of the American public and ensure damaged sales at gas stations are not long-term.

Expect movement at the top

In fact, the fate of many companies and executives in the region will rely on how Dudley is able to manage the BP oil spill. No doubt Hayward’s failure will offer a warning sign to other companies in the region, forcing them to take a closer look at their leadership team and offer training in Public Relations and diplomacy. Considering the shifting profile of a gas and oil senior executive, a lot of movement in the c-suite can be expected to ensure the right people are in the right place to deal with the media spotlight.

Executive search firms are likely to be handling many of these searches for new executive talent, thus oil and gas executives should be receptive to any networking opportunities or phone calls with executive recruiters, and offer themselves as sources to the search consultants if they do not fit the job.

Greater support from the board

The downfall of Hayward in the public eye also demonstrates the need for greater support from the chairmen and the rest of the c-suite. Perhaps Hayward would have performed better under the situation if he had the full support of the organization, rather than letting him be the face of the disaster. Switching out Hayward could also be seen as a scapegoat, after all his performance track record has been very good. Commenting on Hayward's departure, BP chairman Carl-Henric Svanberg said: "But it will be a different company going forward, requiring fresh leadership supported by robust governance and a very engaged board." Let’s hope they have learnt their lessons, and if something goes wrong the board will in fact be 'engaged' and do not leave Dudley to struggle alone.

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