The Great Debate UK
(Republished on Oct. 19 with the following disclaimer: Neil Collins owned shares in BP when he wrote this article; he bought shares shortly before and after)
BP and Prudential are two of Britain's biggest and most respected companies. Their lavish annual reports contain dozens of pages on how these great corporations are run. Both boast of their compliance with the code of corporate governance, which encourages proper boardroom debate to avoid bad decisions, boosts the chairman, and insists that he cannot also be the chief executive, lest one person become too powerful.
At BP, a powerful chairman in the shape of Peter Sutherland was replaced in January by Carl-Henric Svanberg, who had been chief executive of Ericsson. He has been the invisible man at BP.
In normal times, this might not matter. As the company's oil pollutes the southern coastline of the United States, it's a PR disaster. In a crisis, the chairman must be seen to be supporting his chief executive. Unfortunately, Svanberg's chief executive, Tony Hayward, is not media-friendly either.
BP's deepwater debacle is shaping up as Lehman Brothers in the oil patch. The toxic ingredients that led to that Wall Street firm's implosion are abundantly present in the British energy giant's Gulf of Mexico fiasco: flawed risk management, systemic hazard and regulatory incompetence.
And as in the financial industry, the policy response will almost certainly lead to energy's biggies getting even bigger.
By Rob Cox and Christopher Swann
Eventually, BP will definitively stop the flow of oil from its deepwater mishap in the Gulf of Mexico. That's when the autopsy will begin in earnest. But if the information dribbling into the public domain proves correct, the British energy giant will be a weakened creature -- so weak it will be vulnerable to a takeover.
Royal Dutch Shell and Exxon Mobil are almost certainly running the numbers. Governments ought to be plotting their strategy, too.
-Kees Willemse is professor of offshore engineering at Delft University. The opinions expressed are his own.-
Last month’s explosion at the Deepwater Horizon rig continues to result in the leakage of an estimated 200,000 gallons (910,000 litres) of oil into the Gulf of Mexico each day.
– Neil Collins is a Reuters columnist. The opinions expressed are his own –
LONDON, April 8 (Reuters) – BP has undergone a critical period of self-assessment over the last four years. The chairman, no less, says so in the oil company’s annual report.