Seth Kahan
Author, consultant

Seth Kahan

Change expert and author who has advised executives in 50-plus organizations, including Shell, World Bank, Peace Corps and NASA. He can be reached at


A stain on the Earth

Q: As oil surges into Gulf of Mexico for the fourth week, BP's leader steadfastly refuses to take the blame for the collapse of a well. CEO Tony Hayward blames one of its suppliers, and says he's "absolutely confident that we can bounce back." It's not only a PR battle, but one for the ecology and economy of an entire region. What are Hayward's mistakes, and if you were in his shoes, what would you do differently? How do you forge success from disaster?

Hayward believes he is playing smart, for the financial long haul -- that's his job description as he sees it: Take BP through this storm and land the company safely on the other side with as much value intact as possible and poised for continued growth.

The fatal flaw in his view is the time he lives in: the 21st century. Everyone is watching. We watch him shift blame. We watch him abdicate. We see the spill in real time as we listen to Hayward point his finger. The drowning turtles, choking birds, and ruined wilderness accompany his overtures to step free from harm's way.

Tianamen Square in 1989 marked the first time the world watched as student protesters met the force of the Chinese military. The event was dubbed by people around the world "the Tiananmen Square massacre" for the brutality witnessed in real time. Tanks converging on citizens and students. Artillery fire from armored cars that wounded and killed their own soldiers marching in front. It was a tragedy. The world stood as a witness. The horrors of brute force became public.

And so it is with the BP oil spill. Hayward had the opportunity to step free of his role as corporate mercenary. He could have salvaged BP's image and gained the world's empathy and support. Instead, he appears like our leaders on Wall Street: culpable, witless, and sociopathic. Not the image of a global leader. BP is stained by his presence as are the wildlife in the Gulf of Mexico.

By Seth Kahan  |  May 20, 2010; 12:00 AM ET  | Category:  Comeback attempts Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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