07/28/2010 01:50 PM

The World from Berlin

'BP Has to Change Its Entire Culture'

British oil giant BP presented its new CEO on Tuesday after announcing that Tony Hayward was stepping down. The fresh face at the helm may help improve public relations, but German papers on Wednesday argue that the company really needs to rethink its entire strategy.

It was the worst-kept secret in business. On Tuesday BP announced that Tony Hayward, its gaffe-prone CEO, is to make way for Bob Dudley, who will be the American to lead the British oil giant. It will be hoping that a fresh face at the helm will help it turn a new page. But with the company also announcing huge losses as it faces the bill for a massive clear-up operation in the Gulf of Mexico, it may be some time before it puts the disaster behind it.

As BP reported a quarterly loss of $17 billion (€13 billion) on Tuesday, the new CEO said that the Gulf oil spill had been a "wake-up call" for the entire industry. The company's losses were caused by the $32 billion (€2.4 billion) it has had to spend on dealing with the disaster.

More than five million barrels of oil have gushed into the Gulf of Mexico since the Deepwater Horizon platform exploded in April, killing 11 people. The spill has devastated communities along the coast, severely damaged ecosystems, and killed wildlife.


Hayward's inept handling of public relations following the spill had caused outrage in the US. His plea to have his life back and his attendance at a yacht race during the crisis were slammed in the American press. His position had become untenable.

Yet his fall has been well cushioned. Hayward is being moved to non-executive board position in Russia and his severance package includes a salary of $1.6 million (€1.2 million) a year.

Dudley, who spent much of his childhood in Mississippi, is the first non-Briton to head the venerable oil giant. "There is no question we are going to learn things from this investigation of the incident," Dudley told reporters on Tuesday. He added: "You will find that I listen hard and carefully to people." Currently the company's managing director, he was brought in to oversee BP's response to the spill.

On Tuesday the White House, which has been scathing of BP's dealing of the crisis, responded coolly to the new appointment. "Our concern in not who heads BP," White House press secretary Robert Gibbs told reporters. "The key is that BP can't leave and should not leave the Gulf.," he said. "They have obligations and responsibilities … that have to be met regardless of who the CEO is."

On Wednesday the German press sizes up the change at the top of BP, and while most papers agree that Hayward had to go, many argue that what is really needed is a fundamental rethink of the future of the oil business.

The left-leaning Die Tageszeitung writes:

"Tony Hayward's resignation as BP boss was unavoidable. Anyone who presides over a company that causes such an environmental disaster through gross negligence cannot be kept on as the CEO."

"Of course it is too simplistic to blame the whole catastrophe on one person. Not just BP but also partner firms, politicians and regulators seem to have culpably underestimated the risks associated with deep sea drilling in general and the Deepwater Horizon platform in particular."

"The change at the top of BP is a necessary step, but more important are the political consequences. …The question is how our industrial society deals with the risks that are growing through different technologies, from chemical works to nuclear power stations. The disaster in the Gulf of Mexico has shown that all the activities that have the potential to cause huge damage need to be either prohibited or much more closely regulated."

The conservative Die Welt writes:

"After hesitating for a long time and under public pressure, BP has faced up to the consequences. CEO Tony Hayward has to go. Yet this shows how problematic blindly searching for someone to blame can be. Hayward's biggest mistakes when it came to crisis management were rash statements. There is no evidence that he acted negligently or even wrongly."

"One doesn't have to feel sorry for Hayward -- BP has let him down extremely softly. But his resignation means that the attention is being deflected from others who were also responsible. In particular the American politicians who for years encouraged, even pressurized, BP to develop deep-sea drilling."

The business daily Handelsblatt writes:

"After the disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, there are some who are asking if the 100-year-old company can survive the crisis. It is not so much a question of the short-term financial risks caused by the debacle off the coast of the US as whether the new BP boss Bob Dudley will be able to give the heavily battered oil giant prospects for the future."

"BP doesn't just need a new strategy, what was once the most valuable British company has to change its entire culture."

"The new man at the top doesn't seems to want to change BP's basic philosophy: to operate at the limits of what is technologically possible at great risk, in order to squeeze the last drops of oil out of the ground and ocean floor."

"It is not only BP that has to deal with these tough strategic challenges. Other multinationals are drilling much deeper with ever more sophisticated drilling platforms."

"The big companies have on the other hand made little progress on replacing fossil fuels with clean energy that doesn't damage the environment. The oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico offers BP the opportunity to rethink and to develop a new company philosophy. Bu the chances that BP's new boss Bob Dudley will grab this chance are looking pretty slim."

-- Siobhán Dowling


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