BP’s Hayward and Svanberg are toast – what about Terry Leahy and Tony Blair?

BP CEO Tony Hayward, fresh from his more than uncomfortable meeting with Barack Obama yesterday, was eviscerated by US congressmen today (June 17).

Hayward didn’t have any answers to aggressive but perfectly reasonable questions about BP’s lamentable safety record in the US.

He needed to give some ground, admit the company’s record was terrible and announce immediate measures to put the problem to rights. As it was he merely repeated that he wouldn’t be drawing any conclusions until the company had completed its ‘internal investigation.’

Hayward, who’s been under the most awful pressure, has come up short on two counts.

Firstly he announced, when he took over the CEO job from Lord Browne in 2007, that his first priority was to improve the company’s safety record. This he has manifestly failed to do.

Secondly, as Browne’s protege, he is still part of the old regime. And he has consistently refused to distance himself from that regime despite many opportunities to do so (like this afternoon).

The advice to him, presumably from likes of Andrew Gowers, former Financial Times editor who is now BP’s head of media, seems to have been flawed too.

‘Hands-on Tony,’ formerly a geologist at BP, was clearly viewed as the person best able to cope with the flack. But he needed much more support, especially from the hitherto mute chairman Carl-Henric Svanberg.

In the Browne era the chairman of BP was Peter Sutherland, a wily Irish politician and former head of Goldman Sachs Europe. Sutherland eventually engineered Browne’s departure, recognising that Browne’s autocratic regime was a danger to the company.

Sutherland would have been beavering away among US politicians to get the best hearing possible for the company amid this disaster and would have made sure that BP had enough voices where it mattered to counter some of the flack it was receiving.

It’s now only a matter of time before the unfortunate and unlucky Hayward goes. Probably shortly after the new wells the company is drilling to stem the flow of oil into the Gulf come on stream in August.

Svanberg will stay on for a bit as chairman although he too will surely go once a new CEO has his feet under the table.

The new CEO will need to be either an oil man or an accomplished manager who knows something, anything, about the oil business.

Most of all he or she will need to be a skilled communicator; to deal with the pressing issues facing BP as an operator in the US and, very likely, a takeover bid from one of Exxon Mobile, Chevron or Royal Dutch Shell.

The new chairman will need to be a skilled politician.

So what about Tesco CEO Sir Terry Leahy for CEO of BP and former British PM and business consultant to the stars Tony Blair as chairman?

Leahy, who recently announced he was stepping down as CEO of Tesco next year, is the UK’s foremost business manager and, being a thorough kind of chap, will know a lot about the energy business. Tesco uses a lot of it.

He may not know much about drilling for oil but he’s perfectly capable of ensuring that the people who are supposed to do their jobs properly and pay attention to little local difficulties like fatal oil well fires and catastrophic spillages.

Blair is the consummate politician and still very popular in the US. He’s everything that Peter Sutherland was and more.

Put this duo to BP’s shareholders and they’d say, ‘yes please.’

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About Stephen Foster

Stephen is a former editor of Marketing Week and London Evening Standard advertising columnist. He wrote City Republic for Brand Republic and is a partner in communications consultancy The Editorial Partnership.