Hayward in hot water again - as BP's spill costs hit $2bn

The BP boss doesn't deserve all the flak he's had. But watching a yacht race on his day off wasn't bright.

Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

BP boss Tony Hayward really doesn’t do himself any favours. After the worst couple of months of his professional life, he chose to relax this weekend by watching a yacht race in the Isle of Wight. Hayward’s had a rough ride in recent weeks, during which he’s received a lamentable lack of support from his ineffectual chairman. And with spill costs topping $2bn, a trip to Russia in store to calm Kremlin nerves, a legal battle looming with BP’s partners, and no sign of US indignation easing, it’s hard to begrudge him one day off (his first since the spill) to spend time with his family. But really – watching his own yacht sailing in the clear blue waters of Cowes? Does this guy have any PR advisers?

Hayward wasn’t exactly Mr Popular in the US anyway after his previous foot-in-mouth incidents (not to mention his low-key appearance before Congress last week). But the yacht episode has sparked a fresh round of condemnation: he’s been labelled ‘Captain Clueless’ and ‘BP Bozo’ by the press, while White House chief-of-staff Rahm Emanuel put the boot into him on TV yesterday. Although BP protested that Hayward was just having a rare day off, it should surely have realised how badly this was likely to play in the US. Couldn’t he have gone to play golf or something? (Seems it was fine for Barack Obama to have a beer and a laugh at a baseball game on Friday, incidentally...)

Meanwhile BP’s problems keep mounting. It said this morning that total spill costs have now topped $2bn, with $105m shelled out in damages. It faces a legal battle with Anadarko, one of its partners in the Gulf, which is refusing to accept any responsibility for the spill (and let’s hope that all those implicated are forced to cough up, not just BP). The FT reports that Hayward himself is off to Russia this week for a tricky meeting with President Medvedev, who expressed his fears for the future of BP last week. And of course, funding that $20bn compensation pot will probably require more debt, more asset sales and reduced investment.

In all of this, Hayward has been rather hung out to dry by BP chairman Carl-Henric Svanberg, whose major public contribution so far has been that dim-witted reference to ‘the small people’ on the steps of the White House. On Friday he said Hayward would hand over day-to-day responsibility for managing the crisis to Bob Dudley, and over the weekend he passed up several opportunities to publicly back his embattled CEO (perhaps he’s working on the assumption that somebody’s head is going to roll, and if it’s Hayward’s, he might hang on to his own job).

Although Hayward earns a lot of money to run BP (and allegedly would have an £11m pension pot if he stands down, according to the Telegraph), it seems to us that he’s taken an undeserved amount of personal flak for this spill. But while we’re sympathetic to him taking a day off, this really wasn’t a very sensible idea.

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