BP battles to repair battered image as chief ‘steps down’

BP LAUNCHED a plan to repair its battered image in the United States yesterday, ditching its gaffe-prone chief executive and promising to slim down by trebling an asset sale target to $30 billion (€23bn).

However, the company, facing public anger over the biggest oil spill in US history, tempted further ire by denying it needed cultural change and by offsetting the costs of the spill against its taxes.

The tax move will cost the US taxpayer almost $10 billion (€7.6bn).

BP said Tony Hayward would stand down in October, to be replaced by American Bob Dudley, as it unveiled a $17bn (€13bn) quarterly loss due to the costs of the Gulf of Mexico spill.

“I believe that it is not possible for the company to move on in the United States with me remaining as the face to BP,” Mr Hayward told reporters during a conference call.

“So I think that for the good of BP, and particularly for the good of BP in the United States, it is right for me to... step down.”

BP’s leaking well was capped a fortnight ago after gushing up to 60,000 barrels per day into the Gulf, ruining fishing and tourism industries and polluting the shoreline with slimy goo.

BP chairman Carl-Henric Svanberg said the company would take a hard look at itself in the aftermath of the spill: “BP... will be a different company going forward”.

However, Mr Dudley denied BP’s culture contributed to the disaster and said the company would continue to target the industry’s harder projects.

Some investors and analysts said BP’s culture encourages greater risk-taking than that of rivals, contributing to higher returns.

Critics have also blamed this culture for the explosion on the Deepwater Horizon, which killed 11 workers.

“A total change in the culture of this company is necessary,” Democratic Congressman Ed Markey said on CBS’s The Early Show.

Mr Svanberg said he had no intention of resigning and no one on the board had suggested he should, despite some investors claiming he did too little to help defend BP against critics.

“Overall we see BP being reinvigorated by the new strategy in play, a new CEO and the worst news for the company concerning US... costs now being out there,” Jason Kenney, oil analyst at ING, said. Industry executives said it was a good time to sell assets as relative stability in the oil price in the past nine months makes it easier for buyers and sellers to agree deal terms.

Excluding a $32.2bn charge for the disaster and other non-operating costs, the replacement cost profit was $4.98bn, in line with the average forecast from a Reuters poll of 11 analysts.

Mr Dudley said on ABC’s Good Morning America he expected no more oil to flow into the Gulf, but he added: “We’ve got to really kill that well to be absolutely certain.” BP could begin the final procedure to kill the well late next week.

Some Gulf Coast residents, seething about the spill and BP’s compensation process, said they were happy to see Mr Hayward go. “He will not be missed,” said Larry Hooper of Empire, Louisiana, who runs an offshore fishing charter business.

Mr Dudley, 54, would be the first non-Briton to become chief executive of BP. He was previously head of BP’s Russian joint venture, TNK-BP, until he was forced to flee the country amid a spat between BP and its partners.

Mr Hayward will receive a year’s salary of £1.05 million (€1.26m) and will be appointed a non-executive director at TNK-BP as part of his departure deal. He will also get to keep his pension pot of around £11m (€13m).


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