BP lips are sealed on Hayward ahead of board meeting

Reports suggest BP boss Tony Hayward could be out by tomorrow - and Robert Dudley is next in line...

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Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

BP is still refusing to confirm the widespread reports that boss Tony Hayward is on the verge of jumping/ being pushed from the embattled oil giant – although with a board meeting scheduled for this evening, it’s probably only a matter of time. Hayward was always going to be off at some point – and his likely pay-off, variously estimated at between £1m and £12m, should ease the pain a bit. But what’s more surprising is his likely successor as CEO: Robert Dudley, the man who recently fell out so badly with BP’s Russian joint venture partners that he had to go into hiding…

Stories of Hayward’s imminent departure have been all over the papers this weekend and this morning, with BP sources apparently confirming that he was just finalising the terms of his departure (if he does get £12m, that obviously went pretty well for him). Since it seems pretty unlikely that everyone got bad information, it was rather surprising to see BP put out a statement this morning insisting that nothing had been decided yet. Perhaps it’s just trying to reassure its directors – who are due to meet tonight, ahead of tomorrow’s results – that they still have a substantive decision to make, rather than just rubber-stamping a decision that’s already been made.

Hayward’s departure was always a matter of when, not if. Regardless of his personal culpability for events in the Gulf of Mexico – and there have been suggestions that he failed to deliver on the promise he made to focus ‘laser-like’ on safety when he took the job – BP was always going to have to give up a sacrificial lamb to persuade the Americans (and the financial markets) that it had got the message and was turning over a new leaf. And it was always likely to happen once things started to look marginally more positive in the Gulf, so the new guy wouldn’t be tainted by association.

Speaking of which, we can’t help being slightly surprised to learn that Robert Dudley is apparently being lined up to succeed Hayward. In terms of BP’s short-term priorities, it makes sense: the Americans like Dudley, who as a US citizen born in Mississippi (not to mention a qualified chemical engineer and life-long oil man) has been the obvious choice to spearhead the Gulf clean-up. But his elevation might not be universally popular – particularly in Russia, another hugely important region for BP in the longer term. Although Dudley seemed to do a good job growing joint venture TNK-BP, he ended up falling out so badly with his local partners that he basically had to flee the country.

So his powers of international diplomacy – vital when leading a global business like BP – may be open to question. Then again, after dealing with irate Russian oligarchs and the KGB, anything else will seem like a walk in the park…

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