Exile in Siberia it isn’t

Former BP chief Tony Hayward. Former BP chief Tony Hayward. (Toby Melville/ Reuters)
July 28, 2010

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TONY HAYWARD is getting his life back. Because of the BP chief’s own missteps, it’s a different life than the one he had before the April 20 oil rig explosion that killed 11 workers and fouled the Gulf of Mexico. After being dismissed as CEO by the BP board, the gaffe-prone Hayward will now assume a job at a company outpost in Russia — with only an $18.5 million exit package to comfort him.

This was inevitable. Hayward’s awkward and self-serving statements turned him into the face of corporate indifference. Even after his reassignment, he was still complaining about being “demonized’’ in the United States. But the personnel change doesn’t ensure progress toward fixing the company’s safety problems, and Hayward’s plush severance deal does little to promote accountability.

The oil well is on its way to being permanently capped. But challenges still lie ahead for BP and its new American CEO, Robert Dudley. The company must reinvent a culture that put profits ahead of safety. Changing that mindset was Hayward’s charge when he took over BP three years ago. But he fell far short. In 2009, BP was cited for more than 700 violations at the same Texas City refinery that exploded in 2005, killing 15 people and leading to $87.4 million in fines against BP.

Hayward’s exit package speaks to a broader problem. Corporate CEOs are rewarded handsomely in good times. In bad times, they’re rarely penalized to the same degree. In any sane accountability system, overseeing the degradation of a major arm of the Atlantic Ocean would disqualify Hayward from a golden parachute many times larger than the average worker’s lifetime earnings.

As for Dudley, he now must woo back investors, repair ties with America, and deal with billions in cleanup costs and legal claims. But the most important thing he can do is change the perception that BP values the bottom line more than human life and a safe environment.

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