BP set to put first American in charge

By Reuters
Posted July 26, 2010 at 6:53 a.m.

BP Plc is expected to announce in the next 24 hours that Chief Executive Tony Hayward will step down and be replaced by Bob Dudley, a soft-spoken American unlikely to repeat the gaffes that have come to define Hayward in many Americans’ minds.

Dudley heads BP’s oil spill response effort. Just over a week ago, BP installed a temporary cap on the Macondo well, which had been spewing up to 60,000 barrels per day of oil into the Gulf of Mexico since April.

Hayward has described Dudley — dispatched to Houston with a small suitcase in the days after the rig explosion to help run efforts to cap the well — as “the management team’s Foreign Secretary — or perhaps Secretary of State in American terms.”

Before the spill, Dudley was managing director with responsibility for oversight of the Americas and Asia, a role which involved criss-crossing the globe, “making connections for BP,” he said in an interview with the company’s internal magazine late last year.

However Dudley was better known for his previous job as head of BP’s Russian joint venture, TNK-BP.

After BP and its partners fell out over control of the business in 2008, he was forced to flee Russia, blaming a campaign of harassment by BP-TNK’s billionaire oligarch co-owners.

Dudley had been boss from TNK-BP’s formation in 2003 and under him the venture increased oil output 33 percent to 1.6 million barrels per day.

Supporters see this as evidence he has the skill to manage a big oil company. Last year BP pumped more oil and gas than any other non-government-controlled oil producer.

The Russian dispute was also highly charged, with BP accusing the Russian side of calling in the security services to target staff seen as aligned to BP.

Yet Dudley talks about this time without any bitterness or even emotion, suggesting he has the personality to withstand the attacks he will doubtless soon attract in his new role.

BP sees rebuilding its reputation in the United States, on which it relies forgrowth, as its most important goal after capping the Macondo well.

Dudley, born in New York, would be the company’s first non-British CEO.

Directors hope his nationality will help offset some of the anti-British sentiment that has stuck to the company many U.S. politicians call “British Petroleum,” the name the company ditched over a decade ago.

The son of a naval officer, Dudley was raised in Mississippi, whose coast is now being spoiled with oil escaping from BP’s blown-out well.

Dudley started in the oil industry with Amoco as a field engineer in Texas. He later had roles in Scotland — which he cites as the place where he most enjoyed living — as well as in Russia and China.

He joined BP through its takeover of Amoco, after which he was made head of renewable and solar energy.

With his thinning, grey-blonde hair and calm manner, Dudley seems a little older than his 54 years.

He is married with two college-age children. His wife, whom he met at college, still travels to Russia regularly to help run a disabled children’s charity she founded.

Like Hayward, Dudley enjoys recreational sailing. Unlike his boss, he has not been spotted enjoying his hobby during the spill.

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