BP put Mississippi native Bob Dudley in charge of handling the Gulf of Mexico oil spill on Wednesday, an effort to clean up its image and take the spotlight off chief executive Tony Hayward, the Englishman whose gaffes have infuriated Americans.
BP PLC confirmed that Dudley, who grew up in Hattiesburg, Miss., an easy drive from the coast, is now the point man in the mission to stop the oil gusher and deal with the economic damage it has caused.
Dudley, who had led BP's operations in the Americas and Asia, is no stranger to tough situations, having protected his company's interests in rough dealing in Russia even after he was barred from the country.
The 54-year-old spent two decades climbing the ranks at Amoco Corp., which merged with BP, and lost out to Hayward on the CEO's slot three years ago.
Perhaps most importantly, he is a fresh face for the oil company as it attempts to fix the spill and protect its future. Hayward shocked Gulf residents last month when he said "I'd like my life back" and weeks later went yachting.
Dudley was appointed president and chief executive of the newly created Gulf Coast Restoration Organization, effective immediately, and will report to Hayward.
"In the near term, my focus will be on listening to stakeholders, so we can address concerns and remove obstacles that get in the way of our effectiveness. And we'll build an organization that over the longer term fulfills BP's commitments to the restore the livelihoods and the environment of the Gulf Coast," Dudley said.
The reorganization followed a series of humiliations in recent days for BP. Last week it bowed to President Barack Obama's demand that it set up a $20 billion escrow fund to cover damages and to suspend dividend payments, followed a day later by a public thrashing for Hayward before a Congressional committee.
Hayward repeatedly apologized and expressed sorrow for the oil leak caused by a fire and explosion on the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig on April 20. Eleven workers on the rig died.
Members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee were infuriated when Hayward denied direct responsibility for operational decisions which may have led to the disaster.
"You're really insulting our intelligence," Rep. Eliot Engel, a Democrat from New York, said at Thursday's hearing. "I am thoroughly disgusted."
Hayward had a further public relations gaffe over the weekend when he was photographed at a yacht race, and on Tuesday he ducked out of a previously announced commitment to speak at an oil industry conference in London.
A defining moment in BP's response to the disaster came on May 30 with Hayward's unguarded remark that "There's no one who wants this over more than I do. I'd like my life back."
Prime Minister David Cameron intends to press Obama this weekend at the G8 summit for more clarity on the ultimate financial cost that BP will face, the British leader's office said.
Cameron told the House of Commons on Wednesday that the company is prepared to meet its obligations to fund the clean up and compensate those whose businesses have been blighted by the spill.
"But we do want to make sure that this remains a strong and stable company, for our benefit but also for the benefit of the United States," Cameron said.
BP said the newly formed organization will manage all aspects of the response to the Deepwater Horizon incident and the oil and gas spill in the Gulf of Mexico. That includes clean-up operations, coordinating with the U.S. government and local officials, and managing the $20 billion escrow account.
"Having grown up in Mississippi, Bob has a deep appreciation and affinity for the Gulf Coast, and believes deeply in BP's commitment to restore the region," Hayward said.
"Our commitment to the Gulf States is for the long-term. And that requires a more permanent sustainable organization to see it through," Hayward added.
BP had said on Tuesday that Dudley would be taking the lead in the United States while Hayward retreated to his chief executive role.
Dudley's oil industry career began in 1979 with Amoco, which merged with BP in 1998.
Between 1994 and 1997 Dudley was based in Moscow, working on developing Amoco's business in Russia. From 2003 to 2008, he was president and chief executive of TNK-BP, a joint venture in Russia with a consortium of billionaires.
In that job, he steered the firm through a series of politically explosive disputes that saw one employee charged with espionage, the company's offices raided by Russian intelligence, an investor boycott and a barrage of tax and labor investigations.
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