Tony Hayward or Willie Walsh – which CEO’s in the firing line first?

Tony Hayward or Willie WalshWell they surely can’t both survive can they?

Hayward’s BP and Walsh’s British Airways are two of Britain’s most important companies but both CEOs are in the mire up to their armpits.

Hayward is plain unlucky. Having taken over from the once-lionised John Browne as BP CEO with a promise to clean up its environmental act he finds himself presiding over what everyone is calling the US’s biggest natural disaster. Bigger than the San Francisco earthquake of 1904? Anyway, a big one.

BA’s Walsh, on the other hand, seems to be the only impediment to a deal between the loss-making airline and the Unite union over cabin crew terms and conditions.

Walsh withdrew the travel perks from strikers (official strikers) in the first round of this protracted industrial dispute and won’t give them back – so the dispute is going on for much longer than it needs to. But BA flies more half-empty planes than any airline on earth, so what’s the problem with giving back the travel perks Willie?

The combative Irishman’s mood won’t have been improved today by the news that Ryanair, run by Walsh’s auld enemy Michael O’Leary, has overcome its first ever loss in 2008 to turn in a profit of £289m in 2009. Will Michael send Willie a fraternal email reminding him?

So tough guy Walsh, far from solving the problem, has become the problem. Sooner or later his shareholders will decide it’s time for someone else to have a go.

As for Hayward he’s done his best (after a slow start) to take control of the operation to stem the flood of oil into the Gulf of Mexico and also to take the flak.

But BP’s first efforts to stem the leak by pouring junk on it have failed and, unfairly no doubt, it looks as though the company is rubbish too. The US military will take over the project (and probably decide to carpet bomb it). And Hayward will walk the plank.

So he’ll probably go before Walsh.

Which doesn’t seem entirely fair either.

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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.