Spare a though for Tony Hayward Fr. Seán McDonagh, SSC (9th article on Deepwater Horizon July 1, 2010)

Anyone familiar with my writings on ecology and social justice over the past 30 years will know that I have criticised the actions of transnational corporations, especially  those in the energy, agricultural and banking sectors. In my book,  Patenting Life? Stop! Is Corporate Greed Forcing Us to Eat Genetically Engineered food? the first chapter deals with the economic and political growth of transnational corporations since World War II. So, while I have not gone soft on multinationals, I have sympathy with Tony Hayward as he has been vilified in the U.S. media during the past few weeks.

Hayward has been under forensic scrutiny since April 20th because many people believe that his company, BP, has caused the greatest ecological disaster in U.S. history.  His major speaking gaffes have also been used to ridicule him.  On May 4th 2010, he tried, unsuccessfully, to lay the blame for the disaster elsewhere, “This is not our accident…. This was Transocean’s rig. Their people.  Their equipment.”  On May 14th 2010, he tried to trivialize the oil leak. “The Gulf of Mexico is a big ocean. The amount of oil and dispersant we are putting into it is tiny in relation to the total waster volume.”  This boomeranged very quickly when oil reached the shore and television camera showed birds immobilized by the black goo.   On May 30th 2010,  he posted the following on Facebook, “No one wants this over more than I do. I would like my life back.” This raised howls of protest from those who were most affected by the disaster. [1]

In last week’s article, I wrote about how little real information Hayward gave to the House committee which is investigating the Deepwater Horizon accident.  Not alone were people weighing up his every word, they were also looking at his body language. Robert Phipps, who is an expert on body language, commented on his  posture.  “He had his hands folded, which was defensive, showing that he was cut off from people. His blinking rate increased at certain points….. twenty blinks per minute is the normal rate, he hit 60 a minute.”[2]

Who is Tony Hayward? Is he the “bumbler from BP” as suggested by one U.S. Magazine? Tony Hayward was born in Berkshire in 1957 and is the eldest of seven children. He studied geology at Birmingham.  He joined BP in 1983 and spent the next two decades searching for oil in remote parts of the world.  His postings included the North Sea and South America.  He had a close working relationship with Lord Browne who attempted to rebrand BP with a ‘green energy’ image. Browne resigned under something of a cloud and Hayward became chief executive of BP in 2007. Very quickly he dropped the ‘green energy’ image and returned BP to its core business – producing petrol. Soon after becoming chief executive he set about prioritising safety. [3]

While he was working with BP  in Venezuela a young employee was killed.  At the end of the funeral the boy’s mother literally attacked Hayward and demanded an answer to the questions, “Why did you allow this to happen?  Because of this incident, safety became a priority when he assumed the role of CEO.   The company must set “a new benchmark in industrial safety. We have to have a working environment where people don’t get injured or killed, period.”[4] In ways it is ironic, that the worst ecological disaster in U.S. history, which will cost BP billions to clean up and billions more in settling legal liabilities, should happen on Hayward’s watch, given his commitment of safety.

I suppose one would have to commend Tony Hayward’s courage for placing himself at the forefront of this crisis. He could, I presume, have delegated the task to other senior managers. He has appeared on television shows, at press conferences and at the notorious House of Representatives committee meeting.  In the process he has become public enemy No I in the U.S and seen BP shares fall precipitously.[5] Though I am not a betting man, I would put a bet that by the summer of 2012, BP will have another CEO, particularly if any one of the  five enquires currently under way, apportion serious blame to BP for the accident at the Deepwater Horizon rig.

[1]“ Hayward’s gaffes,” The Guardian, June 5, 2010, page 24.

[2] “Hayward watch,” The Guardian, June 18th 2010, page 6.

[3] “Tony Hayward: His gaffes just keep gushing like the oil,” The Sunday Times, June 6th 2010, page 15.

[4] ibid

[5] Danny Fortson, “Wipe-out, the wave that could destroy BP,” The Sunday Times, June 6th 2010, page 5.


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