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Financial Times: Hayward has to deal with a classic successor conundrum

By Ed Crooks
Published: July 24 2007 03:00 | Last updated: July 24 2007 03:00

Tony Hayward faces the classic conundrum of all leaders promoted internally after a long period of dominance by their predecessor: how to signal change without denigrating the previous leadership.

In Mr Hayward’s case, the challenge is greater because – unlike Gordon Brown, for example – he has been unable to build much of an external profile.

When a US oil man famously dubbed Lord Browne “the Sun King” in an FT profile five years ago, he meant that like Louis XIV of France, Lord Browne was the source of all power and favour at BP. In that environment, it was hard for Mr Hayward to establish himself as his own man.

He rose through BP by the standard route, spending 18 months as one of the assistants to Lord Browne, known as the “teenage mutant ninja turtles”, and is generally believed to have been his chosen successor.

His career has had its setbacks, too. His spell as BP’s president in Venezuela in 1995-97 ended badly, with the company selling one field, Pedernales, in 1999 after disappointing performance, leading to a write-off of almost $800m.

His period in charge of exploration and production, since 2002, has been more successful. IHS, the research firm, has said that “BP’s performance in replacing reserves and boosting performance from 1999 through 2005 compares very favorably with its peers: ExxonMobil, Shell and Total.”

But that division was also responsible for the Alaska operation, which suffered a large-scale shutdown last year after oil leaked from corroded pipelines.

When Mr Hayward was designated as the next chief executive, in January, some former colleagues said while they had no doubts about his ability, they were surprised at his promotion, thinking that he lacked the gravitas to replace Lord Browne. The word most often used to describe Mr Hayward is “boyish”: he is a young-looking 50. But he has made it clear his is to be a different style of leadership.

Outside the company, his profile is likely to be lower; inside it, he wants to run the company in a more collegiate spirit and be more open to ideas from throughout the business.

Where Lord Browne was an introvert and careful of his dignity, Mr Hayward is affable and informal.

After a recent site visit as he toured BP’s operations worldwide to introduce himself, he went to a local restaurant with the site managers; which is not something Lord Browne would have done.

He goes to collect his lunch from the staff canteen downstairs in BP’s St James’ Square headquarters just like the rest of the staff, rather than having it brought to him as did Lord Browne.

Many of the details of Mr Hayward’s life are also very different. He is married, to another geologist, who worked for BP for 10 years. They have two children, and live in Kent.

Among his enthusiasms are West Ham football club – where he has a season ticket – sailing and cycling: he competes in triathlons. Interviewed last year by a magazine for the Society of Petroleum Engineers, he said: “All my time outside work really revolves around my family.”

He first signalled his intention to be different last year, in an internal address to staff leaked to the Financial Times.

“We have a leadership style that probably is too directive and doesn’t listen sufficiently well. The top of the organization doesn’t listen hard enough to what the bottom of the organization is saying,” he said in comments posted on an internal website.

He added: “The mantra of ‘more for less’ says that we can get 100 per cent of the task completed with 90 per cent of the resources; which in some cases is okay and might work but it needs to be deployed with great judgment and wisdom. When it isn’t, you run into trouble.”

Those comments – intended as self-criticism, he said later – still stand as a reasonable manifesto today.

Profile

• Chief executive since May 2007

• Joined BP from Edinburgh University in 1982. Held posts in London, Aberdeen, France, China, Glasgow and Colombia

• Became president of BP in Venezuela, 1995

• Joined board 2003, responsible for exploration and production

• Other directorship: Corus

• Hobbies: sailing, triathlon, watching football, cricket

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2007

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