Monday, June 21, 2010

Exclusive Interview with BP CEO Tony Hayward

Over the weekend, BP chief executive Tony Hayward took some well-deserved time off from watching oil pour into the Gulf of Mexico to enjoy a yacht race around the Isle of Wight—a race in which his personal 52-fooy yacht, “Bob,” participated.

Our hard-hitting faux interviewer for The Piety that Lies Between caught up with Hayward through the magic of teleconferencing as he was celebrating Bob’s fourth-place finish with a pint of Guinness at his nearest bungalo.

TPTLB: Many people are wondering how, in good conscience, you can enjoy this kind of luxury indulgence—a yacht race in unsullied British waters—while countless people, animals, and ecosystems in the gulf region suffer the grim consequences of the ongoing oil spew. What do you say in response?

Hayward: The truth is that these people’s lives are going to be devastated whether or not I enjoy myself, so I might as well enjoy myself. And while these events are tragic, no one should be forced to give up living their lives because of it.

TPTLB: Umm...People are being forced to do just that--by the great plumes of oil fountaining into the Gulf. Why shouldn't you be one of them?

Hayward: Because I'm rich, so I can afford to go where the water is pristine. No, wait. I take that back. What I mean wasn't my fault.

TPTLB: But there’s mounting evidence that BP has pursued a company-wide policy of prioritizing cost savings over safety issues. In the last three years, BP oil refineries have accounted for 97% of the “egregious willful violations” uncovered by OSHA inspectors, even though they only account for a small fraction of the refineries in the US. Internal documents reveal that BP chose the cheaper and less safe of two designs for the Deepwater Horizon rig, and that BP also rejected Halliburton’s recommendation to use 21 centralizers to make sure the well bore remained in the center of the casing—choosing instead to go with just 6. And CNN interviews of survivors of the rig explosion describe decisions made leading up to the disaster that clearly prioritized profits over safety. CNN’s summary of these interviews runs as follows: “(T)he workers described a corporate culture of cutting staff and ignoring warning signs ahead of the blast. They said BP routinely cut corners and pushed ahead despite concerns about safety.” How do you respond to all of these allegations?

Hayward: I had nothing to do with any of that. I was out of the loop.

TPTLB: But doesn't all of this point to an overarching corporate culture, one that systematically prioritizes profits over workers’ lives and environmental protection? If the CEO isn’t responsible for shaping corporate culture, who is?

Hayward (smiling sheepishly, fishing in his briefcase, and extracting a laminated poster featuring BP’s logo): Just look at this logo. It’s kind of like a cross between a green sun and a flower. Very environmental. And our new brand name is Beyond Petroleum. What other corporation in the industry has done so much to shape its public image so as to convey a love of nature and a commitment to alternative energy? We’re on the cutting edge of green PR. I don't think that kind of accomplishment should be belittled.

TPTLB: Just out of curiosity, how many years might someone live off what it cost to buy Bob, your yacht?

Hayward: What kind of living wage are we talking about? $5,000,000? Bob is worth only $700,000—so I suppose that would keep you going for about a month or two.

TPTLB: No, I was thinking of a living wage more on the order of what a Louisiana fisherman would make—about $30,000.

Hayward: Uhhh…fishermen actually live off of that?

TPTLB: Well, not anymore. The bleeding wound your policy of greedy negligence has punched into the ocean floor has pretty much put those fishermen out of work. According to my math, the price of that yacht of yours could pay a fisherman’s salary for more than 20 years. You think maybe you should sell the thing and donate the money to some of the folks put out of work by your company’s practice of “egregious and willful” disregard for safety concerns? Maybe, while you’re at it, you could sell all your real estate, move into the kind of suburban three-bedroom house that most people who have far more money than they need typically live in, and then give the rest to help mitigate the effects of this disaster. Would you consider doing that?

Hayward: No.

TPTLB: Why not?

Hayward: It’d just be a drop in the bucket. I mean, the costs of this disaster are huge. Billions won't be enough to deal with a catastrophe of this magnitude. I could sell everything, move to skid row, and it would hardly make a dent in the problem. Besides, I already gave up my bonus this year.

TPTLB: Your multi-billion-dollar bonus?

Hayward: Yes. Along with all the other top BP executives. We all care so much about this problem that we felt we should tighten our belts.

TPTLB: And by "tighten your belt," you mean live on a bit less than you're used to but still more than most people will ever dream of seeing even if they pooled their lifetime income with the lifetime incomes of everyone in their village or neighborhood?

Hayward: Uhh...

TPTLB: You are absolutely right that selling your yacht and giving the income to the victims of this oil spew won't make much of dent in the problem. But it would be something. Maybe you could serve as an example to other CEO's. Don't you think you should do everything you can to help assuage the effects of this catastrophe, even if it means a radical change in your lifestyle, and even if it isn't enough? Especially since you bear at least some of the responsibility for what happened?

Hayward (huffing with frustration): Listen, you want me to be honest with you? The truth is that I like the life of luxury that I’ve been enjoying, and this whole disaster is an enormous distraction from it. I’d like my life back. I don’t want to have to give it up just because of my company’s role in the biggest manmade environmental catastrophe in history. I mean, do you think I really care about that, deep down? No! Of course not! At least not enough to give up my way of life over it. I just want to live the life I've come to enjoy.

TPTLB: As do we all, Tony. As do we all.

(The interview had to be cut short at this point because the interviewer needed to fill up gas in his brand new 2010 minivan, drive across town to pick up his daughter from a day camp, and then meet the rest of his family for lunch at a restaurant with enormous portion sizes.)


  1. In case it isn't painfully clear: Hayward is all of us, writ large.

  2. nice. very funny. I doubt this is real.

  3. Anonymous--Of course it isn't real. But it's True (especially if you treat Hayward as a stand-in for how all of us in the developed world respond to the environmental and social harms produced by our life of privilege).