Much has been made over recent days of BP chief executive Tony Hayward’s gaffes in the wake of the Gulf of Mexico oil spillage. The New York Daily News has called him ‘The most hated and clueless man in America’ and others have been little more diplomatic. The President is on his back, the cleanup cost is incalculable and there is talk of the company being banned from US government contracts. Can we really imagine that things would have been ‘OK’ if only he’d said all the right things? Of course not. The flak would still have flown and with good reason, but thoughtless phrases have intensified the problem – during a crisis in particular, you need to ensure you get the ‘message’ right. Ironically, long before this latest tragedy, Mr Hayward had made it his mission to try to improve BP’s woeful safety record. Historians may well point the finger of blame much more at his predecessor, Lord Browne, and the focus on short-term ‘shareholder value’, which led to the company outsourcing exploration and so losing many of its in-house skills, and what now looks like a massive destruction of value in the long term. However, Hayward’s mistakes – such as talking about his desire to ‘get his life back’ when others had lost theirs – have turned him into a lightning rod for all the anger and frustration – instead of a corporate problem, it’s become personal. This will make his long-term survival in the job all the less likely.