BP CEO Tony Hayward is a marked man emerging as America’s latest leading corporate villain. He’s the new poster boy for what not to say in a crisis. His apparent self-focus that “he wants his life back” pits his desire for normalcy against the loss of 11 workers in the fire and sinking of the Transocean rig. One might imagine their families would like those lives back too.
Tony, you’re doomed man. Say goodbye. It’s all now a matter of time… you’ve been tar and feathered, smeared in oil. When you now appear on camera the common reaction is to throw darts or change the channel. In a world where trust and believability, credibility and likability rule… you’re sinking like a rock.
It seems truly amazing that – for some one who teaches crisis management -BP continues to make mistakes, missteps, misstatements 45 days in to the disaster. The failure to explain what would be deemed “legitimate” claims before Congress in the earliest days of the story is today compounded by an artful, expensive PR campaign that features Hayward and his cabal of advisors doing the ‘best they can’ all the while oil gushes from the pipe. Isn’t there an inherent contradiction in all this… are they really doing the best job they can? Difficult admittedly, but not a success by a long shot.
The real lesson remains the experience of Valdez, Alaska. Twenty one years after Exxon ran their tanker onto Bligh Reef there is still an oily residue just under the rocks along the shoreline of Prince William Sound. Droplets of oil abound in the water, in pools, coating the underside of rocks that cover that shore. Billions of dollars spent and tens of thousands of man hours invested in clean up have failed to restore, entirely restore, the waterways and shoreline. Yes the sound is healthier than some doom and naysayers predicted, but it is not without lasting injury. It would seem evident that a similar fate awaits the gulf coast and possibly other eastern beaches and the communities that depend upon the water for food, tourism, attraction and livelihood.
So as we watch for the expected outcome — Hayward will walk the plank with a shove from the BP board; the company will lose its financial luster and ultimately file for court protection or receivership to protect its reduced and falling assets. Thousands of workers will lose jobs and homes; alcoholism will rise… abuse, domestic violence, divorce all soared in Valdez and the surrounding communities too. Suits and class action filings for worker compensation due to illness stemming from the clean up will clog the courts the way the oil stifles marine life on marshes today. Perhaps even years from now medical claims, lung and other injuries will continue to haunt local residents and their families, perhaps too even birth defects. This will be a petri dish for health, injury and litigation for generations. Within this year I predict BP and it’s eco-friendly logo will be replaced with a new name and consumer brand, as if that is sufficient to hide the experience from the public’s memory.
Sadly it doesn’t take scientist to see where this mess is headed… admittedly it’s a bona fide crisis. Hayward may become the fall guy but the corporation and those who are advising it deserve some of the blame for the handling of the story. Black oil, corporate greed… mistakes and mishandling. Dishonesty. Shame.