Why BP CEO Tony Hayward hasn’t been fired yet

If BP’s recent oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico is such a catastrophic corporate failure, why does the man in charge still have a job? Daniel Gross at Slate suggests that corporate reinvention narratives are the explanation:

For better or worse (mostly for worse), Hayward has emerged as the public face of BP. When he shows up at the Gulf, or on television, he catches all the flak—for his colleagues, for those who report to him, and for those to whom he reports. As a human punching bag, he absorbs all the blows thrown by politicians, the media and locals that might otherwise land on the corporate board or on investors. He literally owns the spill—and its consequences.

For this reason, it wouldn’t be prudent to replace Hayward midstream. New CEOs—especially those who step into troubled situations—like to have a clean slate. There are a few basic narrative arcs to CEO stories—the phenomenal success story, the crash and the comeback/turnaround. The ideal time to take over is after the company has hit bottom, when all the bad news has been absorbed by the market. That way, from Day 1, the story the new CEO tells is of cleaning up his predecessor’s mess, fixing the damage and repairing the company’s image.

The Safest Job in the World, Daniel Gross, Slate, 7 June 2010.

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