Before Gulf Spill, BP CEO Tony Hayward Won Praise President Obama's meeting with top BP executives marked a big change in the energy giant's handling of the crisis. Until now, CEO Tony Hayward has been the public face of the company, but after a series of gaffes, he has been shunted into the background.
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Before Gulf Spill, BP CEO Tony Hayward Won Praise

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Before Gulf Spill, BP CEO Tony Hayward Won Praise

Before Gulf Spill, BP CEO Tony Hayward Won Praise

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STEVE INSKEEP, Host:

Now, yesterday's White House meeting marked a big change in BP's handling of the crisis. Previously, the public face of the company was its 53-year-old CEO, Tony Hayward. Yesterday, though, he was in the background, leaving the handling of public relations to the guy who talked about the small people. NPR's Jim Zarroli looks at Tony Hayward's handling of the crisis.

JIM ZARROLI: Iain Armstrong is an analyst at Brewin Dolphin, an investment management firm in London.

ZARROLI: I think he comes across as a very genuine guy. He's spent a long time there. I think he's very committed to the cause.

ZARROLI: In this 2009 speech, Hayward said BP had too many shallow generalists and not enough people with detailed knowledge of their fields. It was a company, he said, that was too top-down, too directive, and not good at listening.

ZARROLI: We had too many people that were working to save the world. We sort of lost track of the fact that our primary purpose in life is to create value for our shareholders.

ZARROLI: Hayward also tried to address BP's poor safety record. The company had pleaded guilty to clean-air violations following an explosion and fire that killed 15 workers in Texas. But Armstrong says the company actually got through 2009 with no major safety violations.

ZARROLI: I know this might sound crazy, but there actually is a much stronger culture towards safety. When you consider the track record in 2005 to 2008, it was a phenomenal change.

ZARROLI: David Uhlmann heads the environmental law and policy program at the University of Michigan.

INSKEEP: He's been on the front lines. He's been visible. He has, at least in some ways, tried to demonstrate that BP is accepting responsibility for what is happening on the gulf.

ZARROLI: Early on, Hayward predicted that the environmental damage from the spill would be very, very modest. He denied reports from scientists of underwater oil plumes forming. And there was this remark on "The Today Show," on May 30th.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE TODAY SHOW")

ZARROLI: There's no one who wants this thing over more than I do. You know, I'd like my life back.

ZARROLI: After that remark, President Obama said Hayward should be fired. Comments like the one Hayward made on "The Today Show" have done little to help foster public confidence in BP's management, says David Uhlmann.

ZARROLI: He has not come across as somebody who is either particularly able to effect the kind of change that needs to happen within BP, or has enough command of this situation to do what's needed to be done to stop this tragedy from continuing.

ZARROLI: Jim Zarroli, NPR News.

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