One CEO to Go, Please.

June 17, 2010

When he became BP’s CEO in 2007, Tony Hayward was quoted as saying that he would focus on safety matters like a laser.  But his mind-blowing evasiveness and complete failure to show what he did in that regard before a frustrated Congressional Committee proved he could not muster the intensity of a bathroom nightlight.

America, and a good part of the world, have seen a number of unimpressive Congressional performances on the part of business leaders in recent months and years.  Appearances by the heads of Citigroup, Goldman Sachs, Countrywide Financial and the major Detroit automakers leap to mind.  But nothing can compare with the spectacle of BP CEO Tony Hayward, who testified — and the term can only be used in the loosest sense — before a subcommittee of the House Energy and Commerce Committee on Thursday.  It is hard to imagine a more profuse display of insincerity, evasion and stonewalling on the part of the man who leads the company which saw the deaths of 11 workers on its Deepwater Horizon oil rig and caused the worst environmental disaster in U.S. history.  Far from taking responsibility for what occurred on his watch, he pointed his finger at everyone lower down in the organization.  Apparently, not even the company’s alarming emails indicating problems with the rig prompted any further investigation on Mr. Hayward’s part.  His knowledge of the spill and the causes leading to it seemed no better than the what could be expected from the average housewife in Minneapolis who has never been on an oil rig, much less been paid $6 million in compensation for heading a global oil company.  It was, in short, a performance that would have made Bruce Ismay, the infamous head of the White Star Line who owned the Titanic and managed to find his way into a lifeboat as the great ship was sinking, blush with embarrassment.

When he became CEO in 2007, Mr. Hayward was quoted as saying that he would focus on safety matters like a laser.  But his mind-blowing evasiveness and complete failure to show what he did in that regard proved he could not muster the intensity of a bathroom nightlight.

A few days ago we suggested that the repeated failures of the company to arrest the spill and recap the well should prompt President Barack Obama to fire BP and put a new crew in charge.  Since that time, the amount of oil still spewing from the well has increased dramatically.  The spill has taken an even greater toll in terms of nature, shorelines and jobs.  From a business perspective, no CEO has ever presided over a more horrendous loss of share value or such a steep decline in both investor and public esteem.

What is abundantly clear from today’s exhibition is that it is time for BP’s board to fire Mr. Hayward.  He simply does not comprehend how a leader is expected to act in a time of crisis.  To not do so immediately would be for BP to inflict yet more insult and calamity upon an investing public that has been shamefully beleaguered by management’s negligence and a shocked American public that is forced to witness this slow motion horror worsen with each day.

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