NEW YORK (
) -- When BP managing director Bob Dudley officially took control of day-to-day management of the BP oil-spill response last week, it seemed as if headline writers gave BP CEO Tony Hayward a few days off the top of the press fold.
Hayward's headline holiday didn't last though, with the latest reports on the imminent removal of the BP CEO being written in Cyrillic. Hayward was expected to meet with Russian officials on Monday. Ahead of the meeting, a major Russian press service, RIA Novosti, quoted Russia's Deputy Prime Minister, Igor Sechin, as saying that Hayward was coming to Russia to introduce his successor.
BP spokespeople were quick to dismiss the Russian politician's comments. Given the way that Russia plays politics with its natural resource reserves, there is good reason to be skeptical of Russian comments about Western companies in the first place. Just ask Bob Dudley, BP managing director, who ran BP's Russian operations for five years, and was run out of the country.
BP has a huge stake in Russia, as joint venture partner on TNK-BP, oil and gas assets in Russia responsible for one-quarter of BP's reserves and production. You can bet your rubles that Russia's oil oligarchs would like to get their hands on more of BP's profits. In fact, Dudley's departure from Russia, without love, came after a reported battle between BP and Russian oligarchs over who got what in percentage of profits from TNK-BP. Russian President Dmitri Medvedev has already questioned BP's financial stability as a result of the oil spill.
Given the importance of the TNK-BP partnership, it would make sense for Hayward to head to Russia regardless of any BP succession plans. With the Russian president questioning the company's financial burden, and the previous problems between BP and Russian partners, Russia would seem a likely first stop for Hayward now that he is no longer in the Gulf running the oil-spill response.
A Moscow-based UBS analyst told the
on Monday that the Russian report of Hayward's demise seemed dubious. UBS analyst Konstantin Cherepanov was quoted as saying, "I'm sure there has been a misunderstanding. Hayward's resignation at this time and in this place lacks logic... It would make sense that Hayward would finish his job tackling with the oil spill and step down afterwards so that the new CEO wouldn't have his burden on his shoulders."
Other analysts say that since there is no love lost between Russia and Bob Dudley, given the prominence of BP's stake in Russia, the comments from the Russian government regarding the BP CEO post may reflect the fact that Russia would like to have some influence in BP's plans to name a successor to Hayward.
In any event, the reports of Hayward's fate are befitting a Mark Twain comment. It may not greatly exaggerate the situation to assume that Hayward may not survive for long as BP CEO. After all, the buck generally stops at the CEO desk and as of Monday, BP said it was spending $100 million bucks a day to contain the oil spill -- $2.6 billion in all since the oil spill crisis began on April 20.
Yet given the tenuous situation for BP -- not to mention the economic and environmental disaster in the Gulf Coast -- would a change at the top of BP really be in the interest of those affected by the oil spill? Hayward's head on a silver platter might get the adrenaline going, and placate those who believe revenge is a dish best served with the axing of the yacht-racing BP CEO, but it's not going to change the outlook for the Gulf, or necessarily lead to more market confidence in BP shares and the financial strength that's required of BP to pay all of its mounting oil spill liabilities.
There is has been some chatter that, given the anger in the U.S. about the oil spill, replacing Hayward with an American like Bob Dudley is a move that BP needs to make from a PR perspective. The Russians, for one, wouldn't be happy with that decision.
Indeed, well before the Russians got the "Da Svidanya Hayward" talk going again on Monday, we asked
's BP watchers,
Who Will Replace BP CEO Tony Hayward?
The Russians would not be happy with the outcome of the BP CEO poll. Just over 44% of survey takers thought that Bob Dudley's starring role in the oil spill response is the transitional phase for the American's succession to BP's CEO post.
Yet the second most popular survey response reflected fears that change at the top of BP for the sake of satisfying public bloodlust is a rash decision not in the greater public interest. Approximately 17% of voters said that Hayward should stay on as BP CEO until the oil spill crisis has ended.
Another 15% of the survey takers indicated that, in the end, the question about Hayward's fate was really a question about BP's fate. These survey respondents said that the BP CEO question is a moot point: BP's financial burden is so great that in the end it will be acquired or merge with another firm and its CEO post effectively eliminated.
Another 8% of BP watchers expect the BP CEO succession to play out in a similar manner to the corporate planning that elevated Hayward to the top of the BP org chart. Hayward had been head of BP's exploration and production division previous to being tapped as CEO, and 8% of survey takers expect the current head of BP exploration and production, Andy Inglis, to be named the next CEO.
Among the more speculative names that have surfaced among talk of a potential replacement for Hayward was Tony Blair, former British Prime Minister. Sadly, Blair received only 4% of the votes in this poll, even less than the 5% of voted garnered by those who think President Bill Clinton will be the next BP CEO.
Even former big-oil CEOs, current oil sector retirees Lee Raymond (Exxon Mobil); Archie Dunham (ConocoPhillips); and David O'Reilly (Chevron) received more votes for next BP CEO than Blair, nabbing 6% of the survey responses.
-- Reported by Eric Rosenbaum in New York.
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