Special Reports

Gaffes make BP’s chief a lightning rod

NEW YORK — So far, BP’s Chief Executive Officer Tony Hayward has failed in his efforts to stop people from losing faith — or money — in his company.

But he can’t stop trying.

BP’s inability to contain the worst oil spill in U.S. history has focused attention on Hayward’s words and deeds over the past six weeks — and the scrutiny has not yielded a flattering image.

Three weeks into the spill, Hayward told reporters that the amount of oil was relatively small given the Gulf of Mexico’s size. The U.S. government now estimates that anywhere between 21 million and 46 million gallons of oil has spewed into the Gulf, easily dwarfing the 11 million from the Exxon Valdez.

Last weekend, Hayward angered Gulf residents when he said to reporters, “I’d like my life back.” Hayward later apologized.

Hayward also acknowledged that the company had not been prepared for a blowout on the sea floor. “We did not have the tools you would want in your toolkit,” he told the Financial Times. He promised that BP would clean up every drop of oil and “restore the shoreline to its original state.”

On Friday, Hayward apologized for the Gulf disaster on a conference call with shareholders, who since the April 20 explosion have lost more than $70 billion — and counting. Shares were down another 3 percent after the call despite the CEO’s assurances that BP had enough cash to cover the clean up costs and pay a dividend.

Hayward acknowledged Friday that he’s become a lightning rod for criticism. He says that allows his lieutenants to go about their work.

BP Board Chairman Carl-Henric Svanberg told investors he supports Hayward and his staff. Nevertheless, Hayward’s misstatements since the April 20 explosion that killed 11 people hasn’t helped his case with the general public — and investors have been fleeing BP’s stock.

BP’s shares have plunged almost 40 percent since the rig explosion on April 20, erasing nearly $70 billion in value. Also, the Justice Department announced this week it is investigating the spill. Criminal charges against BP could lead to big changes at the company.

The spill has cost the company more than $1 billion to date. Wall Street analysts say the final bill could be 10 to 20 times that amount.