Wednesday, March 9, 2011

What about that Apology from British Petroleum CEO Robert Dudley?

Keywords or Terms: Bob Dudley; BP; Apology; Energy Conference; Ownership of mistakes; Disappointment; Organization and leadership failures

“You know, you never can expect remorse from arrogant and spineless executives of big corporations,” that was my observation after hearing the comments from British Petroleum CEO Robert Dudley. As I read his apology before the industry group at the energy conference holding Tuesday in Houston, Texas, I got this airy feeling that British Petroleum has not owned up to the responsibility for the Deep-water Horizon disaster. Not that I expected more from Bob Dudley, I once blogged that he was part of the problem and not the answer to British Petroleum's disjointed organizational failures immediately after the worst offshore oil spill in the history of the United States. However, I was mystified and angry when I realized that Mr. Dudley’s apology before the energy conference wasn’t meant for the thousands of Gulf Coast residents that suffered disproportionately from the huge oil spill from the Macondo well.

After about ten months, Bob Dudley, the public face of British Petroleum, if a CEO is meant to be that, has not realized what a public relations disaster his office has become; or, how his company has continued to be a source of shame to the industry. With a choice of peddling falsehood, the office of BP's CEO has become a lightening rod for so many industry members who feel the Deep-water Horizon explosion and deaths had become a public relations disaster for the whole industry. Many oil and gas industry members, who expected Dudley to bring a fresh look to the managerial problems beleaguering BP, or expected a more proactive sense of urgency to understanding the grievous fault of British Petroleum regarding the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, must have been disappointed after his speech in Houston. For me though, it wasn’t a case of disappointment when I learned BP CEO said, “...this is the first chance I have had to address such a large gathering of industry colleagues and the first thing I want to say is that I am sorry for what happened last year”; it was more like: “I told you so!” British Petroleum was never remorseful for its fault regarding the oil spill from the Macondo well. As a matter of fact, I do not believe that big oil ever cares about the welfare of people at the receiving end of their pollution mistakes, nor their greedy profits, either from sales or dirty future market on Wall street. There is just too much money to be made, or going around the industry, to care about welfare of Gulf Coast residents or others that may have been aggrieved by the last BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

Mr. BP CEO, Bob Dudley, does not have a different mindset from Tony Hayward. Each in his own throne or delusion envisions that everyone around their drilling rigs has to bow down to their whims and caprices. How do you place Bob Dudley’s statement that that BP is not signing contracts with drillers whose rigs don’t meet BP standards? Plainly speaking, we are not taking responsibility for the failure of the Deep-water Horizon rig and we are not about to take such responsibility in the future. In the opinion of British Petroleum and its executives, blame for the failure of the blow-out preventer on the deep water Horizon rig must be laid completely at the doorstep of the contractors on the rig: Halliburton and Transocean. Through his statements at the industry group energy conference, taking ownership of the problems from the Deep-water Horizon disaster is not our cup of tea. Though we agree to make some restitution to the aggrieved residents of the Gulf Coast, it is still our position, that we are not responsible for the gross negligence at the Macondo well.

The oil spill in the Gulf Coast may have happened under the watch of Tony Hayward, the last British Petroleum CEO; however, the company is not going to be subsumed by the mistakes and faults associated with the oil spill, because it is not the tradition at BP to own up to organizational mistakes. Further, at this time when it seems the dust has settled and the public's attention has shifted to other issues, it’s time to re-assert our belligerence and espouse our convictions that we are not totally at fault for the Deepwater Horizon rig disaster!

With his speech at the energy conference, the new CEO at British Petroleum, demonstrates that the company is not going to own up to its fault and is not going to get into negotiations either with its contractors on the Macondo well or the US Department of Justice Officials. Bob Dudley is dramatically informing everyone that cast aspersions on the actions of British Petroleum prior to, and after the Deep-water Horizon explosion, that it is not going to be cowed down. The company is probably assuming that it is time to re-assert its dominance in offshore deep-water drilling and marketing despite the spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Choosing the venue of an industry conference on energy to make its ‘take notice’ comments, means a lot; and, says more than a mouth full regarding the integrity of the company and those who head it.

No matter who heads British Petroleum, the tradition of disasters and negligence in matters of work place safety and organizational integrity, seems secondary to the Board. Unless these issues are addressed though, we should not expect that another horrendous disaster is not going to occur at another British Petroleum's plant, refinery, rig or platform. Incidentally, the past disasters with the company are not going to go away, except the tradition within the hierarchy of BP's management changes. This necessary change is not going to happen, except a new and fresh executive comes in and cleans house at British Petroleum headquarters and satellite offices, in London, Houston, and elsewhere. The thinking at British Petroleum's Board room is probably warped, or at least suspect, with them allowing Bob Dudley to replace Tony Hayward. It is very difficult to expect someone who has always been part of the problem to profess solutions to the problems that are long standing with the organization or that can be be termed as endemic of the tradition at British Petroleum. Bob Dudley was part of the last BP disaster; he can hardly provide solutions to the problems that have beset the organization lately, especially the accidental disasters and explosions at BP's plant and drilling sites.

Interestingly, both Tony Hayward and Bob Dudley would have been in private communication regarding the accidental spill in the Gulf of Mexico, including the intricate nature of the problems and the probable avalanche of lawsuits waiting for the company. Both men also would have been commeasuring with attorneys and legal experts on liabilities and damages from huge oil spills. Bob Dudley’s comments that BP was not in discussions with the U.S. Justice Department on whether BP was grossly negligent with the Macondo well, is a ploy for denials and diversion from the main issue regarding the Deep-water Horizon explosions: Eleven American workers died from the failure of management at British Petroleum to do their work!

As with Tony Hayward, what the current BP CEO has in mind, differs from the public or the courts’ definitions of liability and culpability. Both CEOs, Tony Hayward and Bob Dudley, believe that the innocence and non-acceptance or refusal of responsibility for the failures at the Macondo well, must be preserved. Although, they led the company at different times, each sees his role in the leadership position as one to preserve the integrity of the company at all cost and the interest of the workforce marginal, even if the company woefully fails to maintain industry standard while attempting to extract oil and gas; and, must not be subject to second guessing. Each sees his leadership position as one won from competence; and granted possible failures, it is still the prerogative of anyone occupying the post of the CEO at British Petroleum, as non-negotiable.

In Bob Dudley past position with British petroleum, he was a complete failure at leadership; and, this was why he was sent running from the BP-TMX collaboration in Russia. This is the same position Tony Hayward is occupying after stepping down as British Petroleum Chief Executive Officer. When we talk about make a change at the helms of a corporation, we do not mean the switching of offices by the same old guard in the corporation. This is just what the Board at British Petroleum has just allowed, in the last re-organization at British Petroleum after the Deep-water Horizon disaster. As for the public that was taken aback after hearing Bob Dudley’s comments at theta Houston energy conference, I’ll say just wait, you ain’t seen nothing yet!

The expectation is that the change of CEO at British petroleum will bring about a different culture from what had obtained in the company before the Deep-water Horizon disaster. The significance of the disaster has not appealed to the executives at BP and their managerial rung does not appreciate the grievance of the problems of violations of workplace safety by the employees on the rigs, platform or workspace. British Petroleum may have introduced a new person to the corner office in London, but he is just one executive that will re-assert the old stance of the company, rather than acknowledge past mistake, introduce workable solutions to known safety problems and move the company away from its old rustic behavior. Some industry observers are watching how Bob Dudley is conducting himself since replacing Tony Hayward and are probably wondering, is this not an old wine in new skin?

The British Petroleum Board, for their part, are closely watching their new CEO and the impending liability lawsuits coming down the pipe. In an echo of the last experience with Tony Hayward, the comments of Bod Dudley in Houston at that energy conference, must be alarming; and if not, then something is definitely wrong with the whole establishment and a very good legal team should endeavor to put them out of their misery. An experienced and versatile civil attorney once informed me that big corporations are never apt to accept fault for poor business decision making or faulty mistakes that may cost them money. As difficult and obvious the mistakes at the Deep-water Horizon rig, British Petroleum would rather deny his culpability or guilt, because of the financial repercussions of accepting faults or guilt.

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