If Bob Dudley, an American, becomes the next chief executive of the UK's biggest oil company as many expect, it could be legitimate to ask whether his former company Amoco has taken over BP. Large corporate mergers often involve a struggle for supremacy between disparate cultures. In 1998, when BP acquired the much talked about US oil company Amoco, it was widely assumed the British oil giant's culture would win out.
But now the US public is baying for change, egged on by a chorus of vote-conscious politicians. BP's "corporate culture of carelessness", they argue, has spawned the biggest oil spill in US history. The point man who could be entrusted with cultural reform, starting as early today, is the Amoco alumnus Mr Dudley. "It's a wise choice to pick an American. This will take off some of the pressure," Gudmund Halle Isfeldt, an analyst at DnB NOR in Oslo, told Bloomberg. He anticipated BP's board would name Mr Dudley the future chief executive of the company after it met yesterday evening.
Born in Queens, New York, in 1955, while his father was serving a stint in the US Navy, the current head of BP's oil-spill response was raised in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, and spent summers in Biloxi, on the Gulf coast. He obtained a chemical engineering degree from the University of Illinois and business degrees from Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas, and the Thunderbird School of Global Management in Glendale, Arizona - training grounds for the "good ol' boys" who dominated the Gulf Coast oil scene around that time.
Mr Dudley got his start in the oil industry as a field engineer for Amoco in Texas and later worked for the company in Scotland, Russia and China. He joined BP through its takeover of the Chicago-based Amoco and was soon made head of the merged company's renewable and solar energy business. At BP, he was the chief executive of the company's TNK-BP joint venture with Russian billionaire investors. There, in Vladimir Putin's Russia, he was embroiled in a fight with business partners who wanted to focus exclusively on the bottom line. Mr Dudley stood up for BP and was chased out of Russia. After running TNK-BP from a secret hideout while a shareholder battle for the company raged, his resignation was the public sacrifice the Russians demanded for a settlement.
Mr Dudley has been described as diplomatic and careful with words. On May 6, he told a business audience in Boston, less than three weeks after the explosion on the Deep Horizon oil platform, "the human dimension of this tragedy" had been "somewhat overlooked". "Our thoughts and prayers are with the injured and with the families and friends of those souls who are not with us today. We feel an enormous sense of sadness and loss. No one will rest until this job is done," he added.
Still, not everyone would welcome his elevation. "I worked for BP between 2000 and 2004 and one thing that was very noticeable was that in the UK and in Europe, BP was obsessed with health and safety, environmental protection, risk minimisation, etcetera," Stan Pomeray, a UK investor, wrote two weeks ago on the Interactive Investor website. "We regularly turned down lucrative bits of business because it felt too risky.
"In the US, however, BP was a completely different animal," he added. "Nobody took safety seriously, nobody really gave a damn about environmental considerations. That wasn't just senior management it was everyone. The reason? Simple: BP USA was basically Amoco re-badged." email@example.com