BP plc CEO Tony Hayward will step down to be replaced by current BP Managing Director Robert Dudley on Oct. 1, the company said Tuesday. Dudley will be the first American to lead the UK-based company, which has seen its image in the United States all but destroyed following the blowout of its Macondo well, causing the largest oil spill in U.S. history.

Dudley was born in New York and grew up in Hattiesburg, MS, one of the states that has seen its waters and coastline harmed by the BP spill. Dudley is widely seen as more skilled at diplomacy than Hayward. In the wake of the April 20 disaster in the Gulf of Mexico (GOM), Hayward made numerous public relations missteps as the spill and the anger of the public grew.

In perhaps the most famous instance, Hayward told a reporter that he “would like my life back,” referring to the spill response work. A grilling last month by U.S. lawmakers served to further enrage the public against BP and Hayward, who was seen by many as defiant and nonresponsive to questions (see Daily GPI, June 18).

At one point following the Macondo blowout BP shares had lost more than half their value. While there has been some recovery since then, the company’s image in the United States is devastated.

“The tragedy of the Macondo well explosion and subsequent environmental damage has been a watershed incident,” said BP Chairman Carl-Henric Svanberg. “BP remains a strong business with fine assets, excellent people and a vital role to play in meeting the world’s energy needs. But it will be a different company going forward, requiring fresh leadership supported by robust governance and a very engaged board.

“We are highly fortunate to have a successor of the caliber of Bob Dudley who has spent his working life in the oil industry both in the U.S. and overseas and has proved himself a robust operator in the toughest circumstances.”

Dudley, 54, is a main board director of BP and currently runs the recently established unit responsible for cleanup operations and compensation programs in the GOM (see Daily GPI, June 21). He joined BP from Amoco after the merger of the two companies in 1998.

Dudley stepped down in December 2008 from his role as president and CEO of BP’s Russian joint venture, TNK-BP, in Moscow after more than five years. He served in the role from the time of the formation of the company in 2003. Prior to his role at TNK-BP, he served as group vice president responsible for BP’s upstream businesses in Angola, Egypt, Russia, the Caspian Region and Algeria. Dudley holds a degree in chemical engineering from the University of Illinois, a master’s degree in international management from Thunderbird School of Global Management, and a master’s in business administration from Southern Methodist University.

“I do not underestimate the nature of the task ahead, but the company is financially robust with an enviable portfolio of assets and professional teams that are among the best in the industry,” Dudley said. “I believe this combination — allied to clear, strategic direction — will put BP on the road to recovery.”

BP has booked a $32.2 billion pretax charge for current and future spill-related costs and has embarked on asset sales to slim down and raise funds (see related story; Daily GPI, July 22).

Beginning Oct. 1 Dudley will be based in London and will hand over his present duties in the United States to Lamar McKay, chairman and president of BP America. “In this change of roles, I particularly want the people of the Gulf Coast to know that my commitment to remediation and restitution in the region is not lessened. I gave a promise to make it right and I will keep that promise,” Dudley said.

Hayward will remain on the BP board until Nov. 30. BP said it plans to nominate him as a nonexecutive director of TNK-BP.

“The Gulf of Mexico explosion was a terrible tragedy for which — as the man in charge of BP when it happened — I will always feel a deep responsibility, regardless of where blame is ultimately found to lie,” Hayward said.

“I will be working closely with Bob Dudley over the coming months to ensure a smooth transition. It has been a privilege to serve BP for nearly 30 years and to lead it for the last three. I am sad to leave so many fine colleagues and friends who have helped this great company to achieve so much over the years. I am sorry that achievement has been overshadowed by the tragedy in the Gulf of Mexico.”

BP said that under the terms of his contract Hayward would receive a year’s salary in lieu of notice, amounting to 1.045 million British pounds (US$1.63 million).

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