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Robert Dudley
Robert Dudley

BP taps all-American as next CEO Add to ...

Among the many accomplishments that have brought Bob Dudley to the precipice of leading one of the world's largest companies, one of his primary credentials may not appear on his résumé at all.

It's his passport, emblazoned with the outstretched wings of the bald eagle.

Named to the top spot at BP Plc on Tuesday, Mr. Dudley will be the first non-Briton to take the job. His own background includes the kind of executive experience expected for someone chosen for the corner office: He led the company's Russian operations and has spent the past two years in a role current chief executive officer Tony Hayward likened to acting as a foreign secretary - a globe-trotting corporate fixer.

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But for a man charged with righting a company through a storm that is thoroughly American - a tempest that involves not only cleaning up the spill, but also navigating the legislative turbulence that will appear in coming years - it does not hurt that Mr. Dudley was born in New York, raised on the Gulf Coast and still speaks with a soft Southern lilt.

"It's enormously helpful to have the American passport," said John Hofmeister, the former head of Shell's operations in the United States.

It also does not hurt that he has received the closest thing to the Obama stamp of approval: a glowing review from Kenneth Feinberg, the White House appointee running BP's $20-billion (U.S.) claims fund. That official praise comes weeks after President Barack Obama, whose administration now holds substantial sway over BP, delivered a stinging rebuke of Mr. Hayward's leadership.

Mr. Dudley, by contrast, is not the man with the Canary Wharf accent, the head of a company now derisively called "British Petroleum" in a country with a long-standing skepticism of foreigners. He is, rather, the son of a country that has been at the centre of BP's operational woes - from an Alaskan pipeline rupture to a deadly Texas refinery explosion - and will figure centrally in BP's future operations.

The hope is that U.S. lawmakers will feel an American will take more seriously such concerns, after Congress responded angrily to Mr. Hayward's perceived stonewalling in testimony earlier this summer.

BP said Mr. Hayward will end his tenure as BP chief executive officer Oct. 1. He will remain on the board until Nov. 30 and BP plans to nominate him as a non-executive director of its Russian joint venture TNK-BP. By then, the Deepwater Horizon leak is expected to be completely stopped, with U.S. officials saying Monday that BP will begin killing the well from the top early next week; the bottom kill, using a relief well, should begin Aug. 6.

The timing of the succession will allow Mr. Hayward to take credit for stopping the mess that occurred on his watch, assuming all goes as planned. It will also allow Mr. Dudley, who took over the spill response last month and whose calm demeanour has won over Gulf Coast governors, to assume the reins of a company flirting with recovery.

"He's only got positive catalysts coming up. It can't get much worse for the company," said Raymond James analyst Alex Morris.

Yet in many ways, the hardest tasks will lie ahead. BP is the biggest oil producer in the U.S. and mending relations with Americans could prove to be a singularly important task, especially as Congress works to punish the company for its environmental sins, and craft legislation to prevent a repeat of the horrific spill.

At the same time, observers expect Mr. Dudley to be handed the urgent task of remaking a company whose growing litany of devastating accidents have painted it as hungry for profit over safety.

"This company appears to have safety issues that are endemic to it, and he really needs to fix them," said Phil Weiss, an analyst with Argus Research Corp. That was, of course, supposed to the work of Mr. Hayward, who promised a "laser" focus on improving the company's record. His standing has, however, been so hurt by the spill - and his occasionally insensitive remarks about it - that many believe BP has no choice but to present a new leader as it works to clear its name, especially as it releases financial results from a quarter dominated by the spill.

In doing so, it is presenting to the public a man it hopes will succeed in a very complex task: fixing long-standing corporate problems while placating shareholders whose memories of the spill will soon fade into a desire for quarterly profit growth.

"With a company that size, it's hard enough to grow - with the best among the group it's 1- to 2-per-cent production growth a year," said Matti Teittinen, a senior equity analyst with IHS Herold. "And having the additional burden of these liabilities and potential spending restrictions, that makes it even tougher."

Editor's Note: An earlier online version of this story incorrectly identified the new CEO in the blurb and deck. This has been corrected.

______

ROBERT DUDLEY

Age: 54

Born: Queens, N.Y., where his father served in U.S. Navy before becoming a physics professor.

Grew up: Hattiesburg, Miss.; spent childhood summers swimming and fishing in Biloxi.

Early career: Educated in chemical engineering and business, he joined Amoco in 1979, working a number of posts in the U.S. and Britain. In 1987, he began developing and negotiating projects in the South China Sea, before returning to the U.S. In 1994, he moved to Moscow in a corporate development role, before being named general manager for strategy in 1997.

Joined BP: 1998, when the company took over Amoco.

Responsibilities: Began as executive assistant to the CEO, a grooming grounds for leadership. Led the company's renewable energy efforts before taking over its exploration and production in Russia, Angola, Algeria and Egypt. Headed the TNK-BP Russian joint venture from 2003 to 2008, when his visa was not renewed amid a Russian shareholder battle.

Joined BP board: 2009, after failing in an attempt to become CEO in 2007, when Tony Hayward was named to the job.

Nathan VanderKlippe

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Follow on Twitter: @nvanderklippe

 

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