BP's New Chief Executive Greeted Warily

Will Robert Dudley be able to reverse the oil giant's fortunes and repair its public image?

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BP, confirming yesterday's speculation about Tony Hayward's ouster, has named Robert Dudley the next chief executive as of October, sending the soon-to-be-former CEO off to projects in Russia. This morning's BP commentary focuses on the significance of the pick, and whether Dudley can reverse the oil behemoth's fortunes. Opinions are mixed.

  • An American, a Gulf Coast Native  Marketplace coverage notes that Dudley, the first American to head BP, also grew up on the Gulf Coast, perhaps making him a slightly more sympathetic figure than his predecessor in the eyes of Americans.
  • Which Says Something About BP Strategy  The choice, argues a San Francisco Chronicle editorial, "shows how important BP's U.S. operations are to the whole company--about a third of its oil and gas wells and other business interests are in the United States." The pick also suggests "that BP expects the gulf oil disaster to dominate the company's fortunes for many years to come. In choosing Dudley, who's not only American but known for having better political skills than Hayward, it's clear that BP wants to convince the U.S. government that it can be trusted." The Chronicle isn't convinced, though: "playing musical chairs at the top won't solve BP's problems."
  • A Meaningless Switch  Rick Outzen at The Daily Beast takes the angle that BP credibility is destroyed, for the moment, beyond the point where a CEO-swap can make a difference: Gulf Coasters will find it "hard ... [to] take anything BP says seriously," after all the lines they've been fed that proved to be empty reassurances.
  • But Investors Like It  24/7 Daily Finance observes that, as BP reported a loss for the last quarter and announced Dudley's October takeover, BP shares went up.
  • Forecasting the Reign of Dudley: A Culture 'Overhaul' at BP  The Mississippi-raised new executive is known for a rather spectacular end to his assignment in Russia, from which he more or less fled, admits Peter Cohan at Daily Finance. But Cohan thinks that was more a matter of Russian businessmen carefully exploiting their native legal system. Cohan talks to a source who worked with Dudley during that time, and comes to the conclusion that the Dudley pick "signals a desire for a thorough overhaul of BP's culture," which he calls "extremely difficult" but "possible." Here's the explanation:
A source ... recently told me that BP's board selected Dudley to replace Hayward as the face of BP's Gulf cleanup effort because he's seen as capable of helping BP solve both the short-term problem of getting the leak stopped and the long-term project of transforming the corporate culture.

This source says BP has for too long put an emphasis on cost-cutting at the expense of safety--despite BP's claims to the contrary. The source says Dudley's straight-arrow mindset is an outlier within the BP culture, which is why he was picked to to run such side projects as TNK-BP.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.