BP's Tony Hayward Sails Into New Controversy

Tony Hayward, BP's CEO, has done it again.

He has managed to outrage many Americans with yet another action that appears to be the height of callousness. He was in Britain's Isle of Wight Saturday taking in a yacht race.

Hayward, a geologist by training, is regarded by many as about as sensitive as the rocks he knows so well because of a series of gaffes. One of the best-known was his statement in a TV interview that he wanted "his life back."

For Americans, Hayward has quickly become the greatest British object of scorn since King George III, and a great unifier, with Americans reviling him from tattoo parlors on the Gulf Coast all the way to the White House.

The Associated Press reports:

BP spokesman Robert Wine said it's the first break Hayward has had since the Deepwater Horizon rig exploded April 20, killing 11 workers and setting off the undersea gusher.

"He's spending a few hours with his family at a weekend," Wine said Saturday. "I'm sure that everyone would understand that."

Not Mike Strohmeyer, who owns the Lighthouse Lodge in Venice, on Louisiana's southern tip, who said Hayward was "just numb."

"I don't think he has any feelings," he said. "If I was in his position, I think I'd be in a more responsible place. I think he should be with someone out trying to plug the leak."

And not Raymond Canevari, 59, of Pensacola, Fla., an artist who said he was insulted by Hayward's attendance at the race.

"I think everyone has the right do what they want in their free time, but he doesn't have the right to have free time at all," said Canevari. "Not until this crisis is resolved..."

President Barack Obama's chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, called Hayward's decision to attend the yacht race a public relations fiasco and told ABC's "This Week," that Hayward had "got his life back."

"I think we can all conclude that Tony Hayward is not going to have a second career in PR consulting," he said in an interview taped Saturday.

Many CEOs see themselves, and are viewed by others, as their companies' public face. They therefore take care to manage the optics of the situations they find themselves in, especially when they and their companies are under harsh public scrutiny.

They know that the financial well-being of their companies are in part based on the intangible known as goodwill in all its forms.

Which makes Hayward's actions all the more curious. Hayward is making it easier for his company's critics to further demonize BP and drive down its goodwill.

Clearly, many observers see his approach to BP's image as reckless and cavalier.

At a time when the same words are being used to describe the company's handling of the disastrous Deepwater Horizon project, Hayward's course is probably not one crisis managers would recommend.

Indeed, his approach will probably be used as a case study by crisis managers for decades of what not to do.

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