NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- We won't have former BP CEO Tony Hayward to kick around any more in 2011. As we bid farewell to arguably the biggest public villain of 2010, it's time to reflect on the year of the BP Oil Spill, and say, "Tony, we barely knew you," except, of course, for all your embarrassing bloopers.
If anything, the public learned too much, in too short a period of time, about Tony Hayward, and it's safe to say that most of the information gained was not been of a type for which a corporate CEO would hope. Hayward was the human counterpart to the Minerals Management Service (MMS) as a result of the oil spill. Both Hayward and the now-renamed MMS were subjects of specialist attention only prior to April 20, but both quickly became punching bags for what was wrong with BP and the federal government management of the oil spill crisis.
Indeed, Tony Hayward was the flesh-and-blood gift that kept on giving to other corporate punching bags like
in 2010. Hayward did what he could, unintentionally, to provide the U.S. public with some much needed focus for their ire during the oil spill, too. For the press, in its never-ending search for the headlines that will keep readers tuned in to the negative news, even Lindsay Lohan and Tiger Woods were hard-pressed to match Tony Hayward in meeting this aim of the fourth estate in 2010.
Specifically, Hayward's chief talent during the BP oil spill was his uncanny ability to take a bad situation -- say for example, the largest oil spill in the history of the U.S., or a 50% decline in the market value of BP -- and make the bad situation even worse through a series of public gaffes in words and deeds.
A case can be made that maybe we were a little too tough on a man who was, by all accounts, a hard-working CEO who was not born with a silver spoon in his mouth. Yet as Tony Hayward begins the new year in a behind-the-scenes BP power post, it's time to look at back at some of the highlights in low marks from Hayward from his CEO days.
In the end, all one can say is that Hayward did not leave the BP CEO post with the precision of the laser beam he came into the CEO post talking about. What laser beam? You know, the laser-beam focus on safety.
Speaking of which, click through the following slide show for a brief history of the Top 5 Lows in the Public Relations Disaster Formerly Known as BP CEO Tony Hayward.
"I would like my life back."
If we don't have Tony Hayward to kick around anymore, this Tony Hayward statement will probably stand the test of time and remain a hallmark of oil spill foot-in-mouth disease.
In fairness, the full context of the Hayward quote is: "The first thing to say is I'm sorry.... We're sorry for the massive disruption it's
the oil spill caused their lives
Gulf coast residents. There's no one who wants this over more than I do. I would like my life back."
Three months later, Hayward got his wish, when American-born BP managing director Bob Dudley took his place as BP CEO.
This Tony Hayward quote may be the most-repeated of his public gaffes. However, in the name of respect for the dead CEO walking (and gaffing), let's at least keep in mind the intense public scrutiny that Hayward was under for months. Corporate CEOs don't make a habit of speaking to the papers on a daily basis unless they are forced to, and Hayward was speaking more than he was ever accustomed to as his corporate ship was sinking on a daily basis. Therefore, a few bone-headed comments among the failed damage control effort undertaken by Hayward shouldn't have been surprising.
As awful as the Hayward plea for his life sounds, especially considering the loss of life on the Deepwater Horizon rig, this gaffe could be filed away as the type of foot-in-mouth disease that had an intention not nearly as thoughtless as the public perception of it. Poorly spoken, poorly chosen, however, Hayward said much more objectionable things during the oil spill.
BP also came out swinging after the Macondo well was capped, and Hayward personally chastised the media feeding frenzy in the U.S., saying BP was unprepared for it. On some level, there's an element of truth to Hayward's comment about the level of public hate that was focused on his every word. On the other hand, if there was anything that BP really wasn't prepared for, and that remains unforgivable, it's the oil spill itself.
Hayward made no shortage of comments that not even the BP helmet he was so fond of wearing for media pictures could protect him from, but the ones that incite the most public wrath may not be the worst. Hayward has his life back, but he can't erase a series of statements that were in defiance of the truth of just how bad the oil spill was becoming.
"Tiny." "Very, very modest."
Remember Hayward's earliest confident prognostication of the oil spill's impact on the Gulf coast? According to Hayward, the amount of oil being spilled into the Gulf of Mexico was "tiny" compared to the size of the ocean. What's more, the environmental impact of the largest oil spill in the history of the U.S. would be "very, very modest."
We can poke fun, and sticks, at Hayward all we want over his "life back" comment, but the more objectionable words from Hayward -- as well as other BP officials during the oil spill -- are the words that stand today as lies, or in the least, gross understatements about the environmental disaster caused by BP.
Wearing the rose-tinted glasses, or seeing the glass half full, is not a strategy that worked in the case of BP. In fact, it's hard to give BP officials the benefit of the doubt and not surmise that they were dodging the truth during the early days of the oil spill.
Here's a note for companies involved in future public relations disasters: It may not be in a company's best interest to posit the worst-case scenario during an unfolding crisis. However, boldly claiming that a crisis does not exist is not the way to go.
Better to choose modesty, over a "very modest" oil spill. As Rahm Emanuel, President Obama's former right hand man, said during the worst days of the oil spill crisis, it was safe to assume that if Tony Hayward lost his job as CEO, he wouldn't be going into public relations.
A case can be made that Hayward's statements about the "tiny" oil spill were not even as frustrating an obfuscation of the truth as the series of comments made about the actual flow of oil leaking from the Macondo well.
"A guesstimate is a guesstimate. And the guesstimate remains 5,000 barrels a day."
Hayward's denial of the undersea plumes of oil that scientists and the government had confirmed as being caused by the BP oil spill may be a gaffe to monitor for future proof of the oil plumes impact on the Gulf. However, no statement from Hayward was as out-and-out untruthful as his early estimates for the actual rate of oil flowing from the leaking BP Macondo well.
In fact, Hayward didn't just make a gaffe with his guesstimate, but went further, contradicting government reports that as much as 60,000 barrels of oil per day were leaking into the Gulf when he called those reports "deeply theoretical" and "an absolute worst-case scenario."
The BP CEO, and the British oil company, wanted to have it both ways, too. First, when BP faced criticism of the 5,000 barrel per day estimate, Hayward and other BP officials pointed the finger at the government, saying the estimate was the work of government scientists. (Only BP would have known at that time, though, the potential size of the Macondo find, and the likely rate of oil gushing from the deepwater well). In any event, when the government revised the oil flow estimate much higher, BP wanted to say that the government was probably wrong.
Where are those guesstimates today? Hayward's guesstimates have been replaced by the most up-to-date measure of the oil leak flow rate: as high as 60,000 barrels per day.
A guesstimate remains a guesstimate and 60,000 barrels of oil a day remains 60,000 barrels of oil a day. And one other thing hasn't changed: BP is still arguing that the government estimate isn't right.
In early December, BP officials told the Presidential commission investigating the oil spill that the government estimate may be overstated by as much as 50%.
The oil spill is over, but the guessing game continues.
"I'm not a drilling engineer or technically qualified engineer in these matters."
When Mr. Hayward went to Washington during the darkest moments of his public shaming, it was a sad display of legal evasions, interspersed with facial expressions that showed all the respect for the American government inquiry as Hayward had shown for estimates of the oil leak flow and reports of underwater plumes.
Of course, the government inquiry at a time of crisis and public outrage can often make the politicians look as bad as the executives they grill. Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas) certainly didn't receive high marks in the annals of public relations for accusing President Obama of "shaking down" BP when Hayward testified, or for apologizing to Hayward for the criminal treatment BP received from the federal mafia. Additionally, given the political and legal nature of our society, it was no surprise that Hayward's testimony amounted to no more the terse words filled out on an index card or two for Hayward by his lawyers, which filled the gaps between the long sound bites from politicians on both sides of the aisle.
In the least, Hayward's testimony was a sad moment of a corporate CEO failing to display leadership. It may have been the proper legal strategy, but Hayward's evasions were so all-encompassing that it almost seemed as if he had no idea how to drill an oil well. Mind you, Hayward was the head of BP's exploration and production business before becoming CEO.
To virtually every question involving the failures in the Deepwater Horizon rig and Macondo well, Hayward responded with various versions of a boiler plate, "What do I know?" response.
"I'm not a drilling engineer or technically qualified engineer in these matters."
"I'm not a cement engineer."
"I'm not an oceanographic scientist."
And Hayward was not a very helpful witness either, as the Congressional testimony made patently clear.
For a man who restructured his oil company to take the lead among oil majors in deepwater drilling, and served for years as head of exploration and production at BP, Hayward sure didn't seem to know much about drilling operations.
Tony Hayward may not have known much about cement, or oil flow estimates, or the ultimate impact of the oil spill on the environment, and when it comes to the ins and outs of drilling underwater wells, Hayward professed to being a perfect idiot, but the American public is still saying today, "Tony, in retrospect, we knew you too well."
As Tony Hayward sailed off into the sunset, the one deed, as opposed to words, that got Hayward in trouble during the oil spill crisis will continue to be the butt, or should we say the stern of jokes: the infamous day at the yacht races enjoyed by Hayward.
BP responded to Hayward's decision to attend a yacht race in which a vessel he owned was sailing by saying that the BP CEO was spending some much deserved time with his son.
It's fair enough to think that Tony Hayward's son might have needed some quality time with dad during the oil spill. If nothing else, to ask dad why every television channel, Internet site and news periodical seemed to think that his dad was the worst criminal in the world.
Nevertheless, quality time with family can be quiet time too. For a CEO at the heart of an oil spill spewing an unknown quantity of crude into the Gulf of Mexico, appearing at a yacht race in the sparkling waters off the U.K. coast was not a bright idea, to say the least.
Was it the worst Hayward gaffe of all?
Hayward can have his yacht, and he can have his life back, too, and keep them safe from inclusion in the Top Tony Hayward blunders.
In the end, it's the words that, if not outright lies, were gross mischaracterizations of the oil spill truth as it evolved, on which Hayward's record of gaffes should be judged, and from which lessons should be learned about not just about corporate crisis management, but getting to the truth of environmental disasters sooner rather than later.
As many of Tony Hayward's words -- and to be fair, some of the government's words too -- demonstrate, BP didn't want us to see through the muck (pun intended) as the oil spill crisis deepened.
-- Written by Eric Rosenbaum from New York.
>>BP Takes $32 Billion Charge, Hayward Out
>>Is Dudley Right Man For BP CEO Job?
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