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Robert Dudley, a Yank, takes BP helm. Why Brits are relieved

Robert Dudley – the first American to run BP – is winning plaudits, even in the UK. In the early days of the BP oil spill, there were nationalist grumblings in Britain about their largest company being ganged up on in the US. But after missteps by BP CEO Tony Hayward, some say new boss Robert Dudley may be just what the company needs.

By Staff writer / July 28, 2010

New BP CEO Robert Dudley speaks at the Boston College Chief Executives' Club in Boston, Massachusetts May 6. BP Plc has installed the American troubleshooter as chief executive, replacing Tony Hayward, who has come under fire for his handling of the worst oil spill in U.S. history. Dudley is the U.S. executive managing the response operation to the spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

Adam Hunger/Reuters/File



A plucky patriotic British defense of BP CEO Tony Hayward in the early days of the Gulf oil crisis has mostly disappeared and Robert Dudley, the first American head of the multinational oil giant, is set to take over this fall.

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While the company shed the name "British Petroleum" in the late 1990s to reflect its status as a global corporation, BP continues to loom large in its home country, where its dividends are among the largest contributors to pension funds and its international success is a point of pride.

But three months into the worst oil spill in US history sympathy in London for Mr. Hayward, a highly regarded geologist with a reputation for his adroitness in oil industry politics, has been largely replaced with relief that BP is replacing the man whose handling of the spill has been a public relations disaster.

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The focus in the UK now is on BP's ability to stem its mounting losses and hope that Mr. Dudley can right a listing BP ship that has lost nearly $60 billion in share value since its rig drilling the Macondo well in the Gulf of Mexico exploded on April 20, killing 11 crew.

“There’s much more realization today that if you are the head of a multinational, the responsibility starts with you,” says Justin Urquhart Stewart, director of Seven Investment Management in London. “Probably the best thing that could happen is for an American to take over. It is no time to for anyone to wrap themselves in the Union Jack.”

Still, a Guardian headline Wednesday played off a perceived transatlantic gripe: "BP sends Tony Hayward to Siberia to appease US." (Hayward has been offered a job at a BP joint-venture in Russia.)

Sharp exchanges between Washington and London as BP couldn’t plug a leak one mile down in the Gulf of Mexico brought out tabloid, cartoon, and talk show rhetoric on both sides of the Atlantic. Brits felt put upon or scape-goated. The US Doonesbury cartoons of Garry Trudeau began featuring a hapless BP chief being “advised” by a PR firm on ways he might change his British accent to better connect with distraught Americans.