The Inner Cubicle

The Inner Cubicle

The BP Oil Spill: Business Leadership in a Crisis

When corporate accidents happen, people look to the CEO for answers.  And in the case of the recent oil spill caused by British Petroleum (BP), the company has covered all the right public relations bases.  Tony Hayward, BP’s Chief Executive, has been actively interviewing with dozens of media outlets and the company’s website posts frequent updates on the spill and containment efforts.  And, his employees are working hard to rectify the problem.  But is this enough?


Back in September 1982, seven people died in the Chicago area after taking
cyanide-laced capsules of Extra-Strength Tylenol, the painkiller that
was Johnson & Johnson’s best-selling product.  James Burke, the company’s chairman, exhibited unusual honesty and sensitivity by recalling 31 million bottles of Tylenol and
offering replacements free of charge. 

But more than 20 years have passed since that accident and in today’s business environment, forthrightness isn’t enough.  The US Geological Survey estimates that 12,000 to 19,000 barrels of oil are being leaked into the Gulf each day, and that the spill has affected the coasts of 4 U.S. states.  Some Florida residents have reported that BP’s efforts are largely limited to the leak itself, and that BP has little or no presence on the hundreds of beaches on which globules of tar- and oil-soaked wildlife is washing up. 


To make matters worse, Hayward told the BBC that BP would, “return the Gulf Coast to the position it was in prior to the event.”  In this one statement, Hayward’s lack of leadership can be viewed most clearly.  Even after the leaking well is contained and most of the oil is removed, the Gulf Coast will never be the same. [After all, this spill is estimated to be at least 10x larger than the one caused by the Exxon Valdez in the eighties, whose effects are still being seen.]

Leaders don’t manage a crisis; they enable a company to be transformed by it.  When James Burke took the extraordinary step of recalling and replacing Tylenol, he taught an entire industry to put consumers first.  Tony Hayward’s actions may be effective at stemming public curiosity, but he isn’t making choices that will change an entire industry’s approach to handling an environmental disaster.

Comments read comments(6)
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posted June 7, 2010 at 11:35 am

Yes. I agree that they aren’t doing enough.

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posted June 7, 2010 at 12:00 pm

There are no miracles, probably never were. The company(BP) is doing all they can. Obama and the Gov are doing all they can. We should all understand this and be glad these folks, both BP and Government are at work. The results of this event will last a long time, but that is how it is so we have to deal with that reality.
It will be much better to deal with it than to think we can beat up on someone, or that a miracle will occur and it will all be better.
For many reasons drilling will go on, lessons will have been learned, the same mistakes will not be repeated and we will all wake up tomorrow just as we did today.
We should all think of those whose lives have been altered forever by this, but no amount of retribution will alter that.

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posted June 7, 2010 at 12:54 pm

BP has not located the leak per oil industry experts. The real leak is 5 miles away
at the well head and spewing 159,000 bpd into the gulf. BP and Obama are
“BLIND TO PLUMES”. The whole gulf and 6 states will become a dead zone.
Simmons says Government Should Take Over BP Oil Clean Up: Video Reference Bloomberg News
Matt Simmons: “There’s another leak, much bigger, 5 to 6 miles away”,flv Dylan Ratigan show

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posted June 8, 2010 at 2:35 pm

mac’s right on this, but better than that his attitude is positive and productive. His is a lonely voice in today’s negative, cynical world. Confidence in our elected officials has been consistently eroding since the widespread use of negative TV ads in political campaigns. Now, everyone calls into question their political opponent’s motives and implies underhandedness. The public has lost any effective level of confidence in its political leaders. Not satisfied with their own undoing, politicians have gone after our financial and industrial leaders also. A lot of the public now assumes the worst about our Country’s CEO’s and their motives.
We need to regain confidence in our leaders. Progress is not sustainable without it. Perhaps the politicians should go back to arguing for their solutions and against those of their opponents without always calling one’s motives into question. Who knows, perhaps they could even be civil to one another and give the public the impression that they have some respect for each other. Until then, we are like a rudderless ship.

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Rick Rexor

posted June 10, 2010 at 2:36 pm

Check out Bert Martinez’s system on Business Leadership and how to strengthen your company!

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robert evans

posted February 26, 2012 at 2:02 am

The Rehabilitation Act of 1973, Americans With Disabilities Act, and prior Supreme Court cases, require that the new fund set up to compensate Plaintiff Steering Committee attorneys, that withhold 6% of settlements, as ordered by Judge Barbier, BE JUSTIFICATION for these attorneys to provide extended representation to disabled claimants! Please bring this to the attention of others.

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