It’s not unusual to see a CEO depart in the wake of a corporate disaster. But the departure of BP chief Tony Hayward following the gulf oil spill provides a compelling lesson in the complex responsibilities of the modern CEO.
The Wall Street Journal reported this morning that Hayward’s departure is imminent, with American Robert Dudley likely to be named as his replacement.
Hayward failed to realise that a modern CEO managing a crisis must first and foremost humanize himself and relate to the hardships of those affected by his company’s accident.
Instead of projecting empathy, Hayward repeatedly embarrassed BP and provoked further outrage. In public comments he referred to the record setting oil spill as “relatively tiny” and said he wanted his old “life back”, an especially tone deaf remark considering 11 workers lost their lives during the explosion on the rig.
But we think the biggest mistake on Hayward’s part was his decision in June to attend the J.P. Morgan Asset Management Round the Island Race. The contrast between the glitzy proceedings and the suffering of the working class victims in Louisiana affected by the spill were the final strike against Hayward.
“All of a sudden you have an event where you are now standing in the spotlight among shrimp fisherman and local politicians and people who maybe make 20 or 30,000 dollars a year,” Robbie Vorhaus, a crisis expert at Vorhaus Communications Inc, told the WSJ. “A true leader needs to be able to come from the heart and make these people feel that there is a connection.”