Mississippi Man Charged With Repairing BP's Image Bob Dudley, a BP executive from Mississippi, has been picked to replace CEO Tony Hayward as the face of the company's efforts to clean up the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Dudley, who has spent much of his career abroad, has a relaxed style -- and nowhere to go but up.
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Mississippi Man Charged With Repairing BP's Image

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Mississippi Man Charged With Repairing BP's Image

Mississippi Man Charged With Repairing BP's Image

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A new executive will be the face of BP's efforts to clean up the Gulf oil spill.

NPR's Wade Goodwyn has this profile of Bob Dudley, the man picked to follow in the footsteps of CEO Tony Hayward.

WADE GOODWYN: The first crack in BP's public relation facade came early when Tony Hayward said he hoped they would cap the gushing well so that, quote, "He could get his life back." With 11 men who will never get their lives back and an ocean of oil bearing down on the coast, many felt Hayward's tone left something to be desired. Then came Hayward's appearance before the U.S. Senate.

Mr. TONY HAYWARD (Chief Executive Officer, BP): I'm afraid I can't recall that. I don't recall that either. I was not involved in the decision making. I can't answer your question. I can't recall that memo.

GOODWYN: A few days later, when the BP CEO was spotted with his 52-foot yacht racing around the Isle of Wight, there were quite a few suggestions by Gulf Coast politicians as to what Hayward should do with his gleaming racing boat -like bring it over here and pick up a few giant tar balls.

Mr. CHRIS LEHANE (Political Consultant and Crisis Communications Expert): There has been, you know, a high degree of tone deafness from Hayward as a BP CEO.

GOODWYN: For eight years, Chris Lehane worked in the Clinton White House. Now he has his own firm specializing in crisis management. Lehane says BP's first mistake was putting Hayward out front.

Mr. LEHANE: Anytime you're in a situation like this, whoever the point person is, they're going to have the professional life expectancy of a, you know, of a carton of milk.

GOODWYN: Having gone sour, the man who sounds like he stepped out of the House of Lords is being replaced by a BP executive from Mississippi, Bob Dudley.

In a recent interview on PBS' "NewsHour," Dudley's relaxed style was different - if not necessarily his content - when asked if BP had taken shortcuts on the drilling rig Deepwater Horizon.

Mr. BOB DUDLEY (Managing Director, BP): This is an investigation of a very complicated accident. It's been that way from the beginning. There's lots of conflicting statements and information that comes out. There's a tone around that that implies we've taken shortcuts, that somehow our company...

GOODWYN: Much of Dudley's career in the oil industry has been abroad. He headed up BP's joint venture in Russia, TNK-BP, but it ended up going badly for Dudley. The Russians became so angry with him they refused to let him back in the country.

Matti Teittinen is a senior equity analyst with IHS Herold in Boston, who's followed Dudley's career.

Mr. MATTI TEITTINEN (Senior Equity Analyst, IHS Herold): They wouldn't renew Bob Dudley's visa allowing him to stay in the country, so he had to actually go operate from another country outside of Russia. And eventually, BP was forced to make some concessions and ultimately their overall control was reduced.

GOODWYN: While that doesn't sound like an unqualified success, Teittinen says inside the industry, Dudley was seen as having done as well as might be expected in a joint venture with nationalistic Russian oligarchs.

Mr. TEITTINEN: The company was one of the more successful oil and gas companies in Russia during that time period and made pretty strong growth.

GOODWYN: While Dudley doesn't have to worry about his Southern credentials being revoked if too much oil washes ashore in Louisiana or Florida, this assignment will be no picnic either.

Louisiana Congressman Charlie Melancon is watching his coastal district slowly die on the vine. He could not be less impressed with Tony Hayward, but he's keeping an open mind about Dudley.

Representative CHARLIE MELANCON (Democrat, Louisiana): I'm willing to give him the first opportunity to demonstrate that he truly does care about it. And being from Mississippi, he'll have an understanding of the feelings of the people that are affected by this oil spill.

GOODWYN: But for Melancon and his district, in the end, this is a results game, not a beauty contest.

Rep. MELANCON: There's nothing that he can do, short of plugging that hole, that will make him any better person in terms of being able to accomplish the task at hand.

GOODWYN: Melancon says that for Bob Dudley and his oil company, there is really nowhere to go but up.

Wade Goodwyn, NPR News.

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