NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- As Tony Hayward exits BP ( BP) with a severance package of $1.6 million in salary plus millions more in pension benefits, he let the world know on Friday morning that he deserves every penny of it.
Hayward also made the case in his comments that when all is said and done, he was the one who made the decision to leave, for the good of BP. "It was a very tough decision," Hayward said, to agree with BP's board of directors to give up the CEO post. New BP CEO Dudley seconded that opinion at the town hall meeting, saying, "It's a measure of the man that Tony is willing to step down, just when things are starting to go right." It's great that Dudley and Hayward are working together to create such a seamless transition, but the words about Hayward's departure don't add up. There was widespread belief from the Street that Hayward had to step down, but wouldn't do so until the oil spill was under control, as that might cause even more uncertainty for the rocked BP shares, and provide an incoming CEO with an even harder task than the one they already were inheriting. That's exactly what happened, too. Leaking Macondo well capped, Hayward out. For Dudley to say that it's a "measure of the man" that Hayward was willing to step down seems a tad disingenuous, too. What was Hayward going to do? Barricade the door to his office, borrow a deep-water pump from the Gulf, fill it with heavy drilling mud, and mow down anyone who tried to remove him? In the WSJ comment sure to get play, Hayward played the victim, saying, "I became a villain for doing the right thing, But I understand that people find it easier to vilify an individual more than a company." In fact, he only mistake Hayward was willing to admit was the utterance of some comments he would like to have back, including the infamous, "I'd like my life back," statement.
It's not difficult to understand why Hayward would want to keep his job, though it's a little difficult to understand why the Hayward farewell tour would be an event worthy of notice. Much has been made in the press of Hayward's humble beginnings, and the way he worked his way up the corporate ladder only to see the rungs taken out from under him by the oil spill. So he wasn't born with a silver spoon. Regardless, Hayward staked his reputation on building the most formidable deepwater exploration and production business in the industry, and on improving the safety record of BP, and the record on which he has to be judged is as CEO, not what he did in reaching that post. The deepwater business caused the worst oil spill in the history of the U.S. and the worst losses ever suffered by BP -- a $17 billion loss in the second quarter and a market share drop of more than 40% since the oil spill began. Additionally, Hayward built a formidable presence in the U.S. Gulf of Mexico, specifically, with ambitious exploration plans in the Gulf over the next five years that tied BP to success the U.S. in a way that demanded being prepared for the worst-case scenario.
The "whole truth" of the oil spill may show more than one culprit. It's also true that Congressional inquiries have shown that all the oil majors lacked an appropriate oil spill response plan. Yet none of this means that the CEO whose company had the oil spill should be off the hook. CEOs aren't villains. They are just the most highly paid people in the world, and as such, deserve to be rewarded equally for success and failure. Hayward got his due reward then, and his leaving BP with a big severance package shows the double-edged sword of the CEO stature. Hayward got his life back, too -- but still he can't keep quiet. The "measure of the man" isn't just his willingness to resign, as incoming BP CEO Dudley said of Hayward. The real measure of a man is his willingness to let go. If BP can rebuild faster in America with Tony Hayward, as the "villified" man said himself, maybe he can rebuild himself faster when his failure at BP and his victimization isn't the subject. Or, in oil spill parlance, put a cap on it Tony. -- Written by Eric Rosenbaum from New York.
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