BP’s managing director Bob Dudley will have day-to-day responsibility for managing the company’s oil spill response in the Gulf of Mexico. Will he do any better at battling the crisis?
The chairman of BP announced Friday that the company’s CEO, Tony Hayward, will no longer have day-to-day responsibility for managing the company’s oil spill response in the Gulf of Mexico.
That task now falls to another longtime BP executive, managing director Bob Dudley. Mr. Hayward will remain the firm’s chief executive.
The move announced by chairman Carl-Henric Svanberg came a day after Hayward endured withering criticism and interrogation from members of Congress, and after weeks during which Hayward was in the news as much for verbal gaffes as for crisis leadership.
But who is Bob Dudley, and will he do any better at battling the spill that has so far proved an intractable mess for BP, the US government, and the Gulf Coast? The public will know more in a few months, but already he’s no stranger to the Gulf region or to the US news media.
Here are five things to know, gleaned from his recent public appearances, as well as from older news-wire reports and industry publications:
He’s an American. BP’s voice in America will no longer come with a British accent attached. He has a chemical engineering degree from the University of Illinois and an MBA from Southern Methodist University, according to a biography published by Energy Intelligence Group. He’s worked in the oil industry a long time including at Amoco, before it merged with BP. He became a BP director about a year ago.
He’s been in the frying pan. Dudley is no stranger to tough situations. The oil business these days involves working in difficult terrain, whether that’s in physical terms (a mile below the sea’s surface) or politically. His work has taken him to the South China Sea, Angola, Algeria, and Egypt.
In Vladimir Putin’s Russia, while trying to extract oil and related profits in a BP joint venture, he was embroiled in a nasty corporate fight – accused by business partners of focusing solely on BP’s bottom line. International Oil Daily described Dudley as “the most high-profile victim of the shareholder battle for control of TNK-BP, which effectively ended with his departure from Russia.”
He’s been in the fire. He won’t bring fresh eyes to the Gulf. He’s already been one of BP’s point men there – helping to orchestrate the failed “top kill” and other efforts to plug the wellhead leak. His new role simply formalizes something chairman Svanberg had already announced – that Hayward would soon relinquish day-to-day management of the spill response.
“We failed to wrestle the beast to the ground yesterday,” he said in a matter-of-fact monotone on ABC at the end of May, as the top-kill effort failed.
He’s has shown some care with words. This is important, because BP has both a public-image problem and legal challenges – and those two things can tug a corporate spokesman in different ways. One calls for an air of forthrightness, the other for caution.
“We understand the anger of the people, particularly those whose livelihoods have been affected,” he told NBC’s “Meet the Press” recently.
On ABC in May, he said that he wants to avoid pointing fingers and that an investigation is needed on the blowout’s causes. But in the next breath, he said the blowout preventer (not made by BP) “is the piece of equipment that is not expected to fail.” He rejected allegations that BP was “cutting corners” on safety.
All this doesn’t answer whether Dudley will be able to shake congressional critics and avoid gaffes such as Hayward’s comment that he wanted “his life back.” But it suggests he thinks carefully about how public words affect BP.
He’s not CEO – at least not yet. Hayward for now remains the firm’s chief executive. But his demotion from leadership in the Gulf, coupled with his secondary role in the White House’s talks with BP (Svanberg took the lead), suggests to many that his days at the helm may be numbered. That leaves open the question of whether Dudley will be in line for the top job.