The Real Reason BP Kept Tony Hayward So Long

tony hayward

At first glance it would seem like CEO of BP is not an enviable position to hold these days.

The last CEO, Tony Hayward, got chewed to bits in the press over his management of the gulf oil spill.

But that’s exactly why the new CEO Bob Dudley is so lucky. At least according to a piece in Fast Company by Robert Sutton, a professor of management science and engineering at Stanford. 

For a new CEO, says Sutton, it’s all relative. “Because of the power of psychological contrast, the more that Mr. Hayward comes across as an insensitive buffoon, the better a scapegoat that Mr. Hayward becomes–and the better that Mr. Dudley looks in contrast.”

Sutton gives credit to the BP board for keeping Hayward on during these last two months. He took all the abuse while the crisis was unfolding. Now that a solution finally seems to be in sight, a new leader like Dudley can step in and start off with success.

It’s an intriguing theory, one that helps to explain why a gaffe prone Hayward was allowed so many opportunities to bumble in the press.

“This is also a pattern that I commented on in The No arsehole Rule,” writes Sutton. “Quite a few bosses explained to me that it was great to take a job where the last boss was a certified arsehole because, in comparison, they seemed to be civilized.”