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.


In his first interview since announcing he would leave the BP CEO post -- given to the Wall Street Journal -- Hayward played the CEO victim card and insisted that he had done all the right things during the oil spill crisis.

Hayward is clearly a man in love with his job and his company, and reluctant to leave the post. In fact, in his own words, Hayward is leaving BP expressly due to his love for the oil giant. In a verbal tautology worthy of an undergraduate class in logic, Hayward told the WSJ, "I didn't want to leave BP, because I love the company.... Because I love the company, I must leave BP."

Yet many would contend that it's not just the A of Hayward loving BP that merits the B of his giving up the CEO post.

Indeed, there was a sense of Hayward's anxiety about the end of his tenure at BP during Tuesday's earnings conference call. Hayward was almost too "on top" of the Q&A session with analysts, delegating at a commanding pace the portions of analyst questions to be answered by himself, versus those to be answered by CFO Byron Grote and incoming CEO Bob Dudley. Some of Hayward's answers during the Q&A were fired off so quickly and directly that it seemed as if Hayward imagined himself in a High Noon duel and had to show that he still had the steadiness and gunslinger speed to prevail against the real villains. It all went by so fast, we can imagine Hayward lamenting.


Apparently, Hayward has been in a fragile emotional state. The WSJ noted that when Hayward was greeted with a standing ovation as he began his BP farewell tour on Wednesday with one in a planned series of employee town hall meetings, the outgoing CEO told the crowd, "If you keep clapping, I will cry."

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.

Yet if Hayward really wanted a public forum to make his case, he could have achieved something higher than his disappointing legal line of evasions during his Congressional testimony. Hayward was on center stage in the U.S., and while the legal responses are part and parcel of testifying under oath, Hayward appeared smug under questioning. Where was the man who loved his company?

He certainly could have spoken truthfully and emotionally about his love for his job and his personal feelings on that stage, or at least interspersed some show of a human being with the legalese. Yet all the U.S. public and Congress received were boiler plate responses and smirks from Hayward that suggested he could barely be bothered with the U.S.

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.


Is it really making Hayward into a villain to see his CEO tenure end after the events in the Gulf? Isn't this the way the corporate world works? For all the talk of Hayward's brilliant job running BP as a financial entity, even analysts who have lauded his work, and liked the man, believed he had to go. That's just the way things work at the top of the food chain. Hayward didn't need to leave because, as he said, "BP can rebuild faster in America without Tony Hayward as its CEO," but because he was CEO of a company that had a breakdown in risk management that could have been avoided.

Hayward made the case on Tuesday's earnings conference call and in his WSJ comments that when all is said and done the public will learn that the oil spill was not BP's fault alone, referring to "the whole truth of the accident." This comment is no doubt just one more piece in the BP strategy of avoiding the gross negligence claims it faces in the oil spill. It also places the focus on the cause of the spill, as opposed to BP's inability to stop the spill for more than 3 months.

In a Hayward-specific scenario, it's also a game of strategic misdirection in terms of CEO responsibility. BP's failure to bring the oil spill under control for more than three months, and the clear lack of BP technology to stop the spill -- the "tools in the toolkit" that Hayward once said BP wished it had had -- has to stop at the CEO desk.

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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