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An Open Letter to Bob Dudley, the New CEO of BP

July 29, 2010
Oil and Water
Welcome aboard, Mr. Dudley!

Dear Mr. Dudley;

Congratulations on being named BP’s new CEO; I’m sure this must be an exciting time for you and your family, and you deserve it after years of dedication to BP and its subsidiaries. You are qualified for the job, which is a relief to a lot of people (except those who think you were just selected for the role because of your personal ties to the Gulf region). But that doesn’t mean the job is going to be as simple and straightforward. After all, you’re not just going to be responsible for running the day-to-day operations of one of the largest companies in the world, daunting enough as that may be. Now, you are the face of a catastrophe, in the midst of a PR nightmare, and the company you run is responsible for the worst environmental disaster in U.S. history.

Good luck.

I sincerely hope you are up to the challenge; the world hopes you’re up to it – not because we care about how you run BP, but because we want to see the oil spill cleaned up. Your predecessor, Tony Hayward, was not up to the challenge. He quickly lost the confidence not only of the BP employees and board of directors, but investors, governments, and the public as a whole.

Here are a few tips for regaining the confidence and trust of the public:

  • Be transparent, be honest, be communicative. No more doctored photos, no more hiding behind science, no more claims of “modest impact.” Don’t fudge the numbers, don’t make statements that are clearly masking information, and don’t script everything with a positive spin.
  • Be sincere. Don’t just market the heck out of how much BP is doing to clean up the oil spill. Actually clean it up. In today’s world, viral marketing will take care of itself if you’re doing enough good. It will also happen if you’re not. Because of the attention on the issue, word will spread, and any efforts to just tell us about “the great job BP is doing” will feel fake – after all, this is your own mess…you’re the one we expect to clean it up.
  • Do the right thing. Don’t make decisions just based on how they’ll be perceived. This goes along with the sincerity theme – leaders are authentic, and they do the right thing. Now is the time for you, as the leader of BP responsible for righting a number of wrongs, to set an example that can have a positive ripple effect in the cleanup effort. Don’t make it all about “saying the right thing.”  Do the right thing, and we’ll be happy.
  • Don’t point fingers elsewhere. Leaders hold themselves, and their employees, accountable. I read a blogpost last month that makes this point well: you can’t outsource this mess. Various accounts of the disaster make it clear that BP’s lack of accountability in the corporate culture led to safety shortcuts, finger-pointing, he-said/they-said fights, etc. The tragic result is well documented now.
  • Don’t ask for sympathy. Do the opposite – try to empathize with those who have been affected the most by the oil spill. Remember the families of the men who were killed during the explosion. Consider, and even personally relate to, those who have lost their livelihood because of the oil slick. Take into account the plant and animal life that have been destroyed, and the lost enjoyment of millions because of the still-growing mess. You won’t get any sympathy over the billions of dollars the oil cleanup will cost. We know BP has made billions of dollars from of the production of oil and the sale of gasoline as recently as last quarter. We don’t care how much it costs you to clean up our beaches, save the dolphins, and limit the impact on the environment. And we will question every move you make. Hayward lost any credibility he might have had when he infamously declared, “I’d like my life back.” It might be easier for him to get back to yachting now that he’s been exiled, but he made your job harder with his public relations approach.

Mr. Dudley, you are now responsible for setting the tone of a culture change at one of the world’s largest, and now the most publicly scrutinized, companies – a culture change that will be felt around the world.

Like I said, I hope you’re up to it.

Thanks,

Jeremy Hill

Linkage, Inc.

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