More corporate Conn artistry in the Mississippi delta
Last Thursday while some of us were trying to forget the phrase “oil company”, the man touted by odds makers to succeed BP’s other man-made disaster, CEO Tony “I want my life back” Hayward, was out on corporate maneuvers at the World Forum on Enterprise and the Environment–yet another badly timed business conference in Oxford, England–trying valiantly to win back support for the British-based environmental slaughterhouse.
Iain Conn, 47, another Scottish-born executive officer on the half-submerged BP corporate flagship, has stepped into the void created when Tony Hayward decided enough was enough earlier in June and hightailed it to his yacht, “Bob,” to partake of the Isle of Wight yacht par-tay organized by that friend of the common man, the J.P. Morgan investment bank.
The occasion could just as easily have been a pro-am celebrity golf tourney, but the message was the same one that BP’s unfazed and quasi-psychopathic executive schlemiels have been spouting since the company’s Deepwater Horizon offshore drilling rig exploded on April 20th killing eleven workers.
Conn repeated the same careful and formulaic apologia that was offered by Tony Hayward two weeks previously before the U.S. congressional oversight committee, and by Steve Westwell, who subbed for Hayward barely a week later at the World National Oil Companies conference in London.
“Tragic accident…condolences…yadda yadda yadda…keep drilling”
Conn’s succinct speech was about “three things”: first, what he called “the tragic accident of the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig in the Gulf of Mexico and its consequences,”second, “to offer some thoughts on how exploration for oil and gas is linked to the necessary journey from the energy realities of today to the energy world of tomorrow,” and thirdly, “conclusions about pragmatic energy policy in Europe and the United States and the opportunities for alignment and partnership.”
Conn’s pat comments were in the same self-justifying vein as his BP cohorts–paying lip service to the victims of the April 22nd explosion while characterizing it carefully as “an accident” and then move onto to sell his audience on the absolute indispensability of continued offshore oil exploration:
As we have said many times, the explosion on the Deepwater Horizon was a tragic accident and should not have happened. We deeply regret the loss of 11 lives on the rig and the subsequent damage to the environment and livelihoods of the people of the US Gulf. On behalf of BP, I want to say how truly sorry I am. As one of the responsible parties, and operator, our focus since the accident has been on preventing the flow of oil, cleaning up the spill and meeting all legitimate claims for losses. We are only one of many parties to this catastrophic incident. However, as a company we have without hesitation stepped up to the plate and accepted our responsibilities.
The remainder of Conn’s soliloquy was replete with variations on those central themes. Repeated allusions to the “complex accident involving, as already published by BP, the failure of at least seven layers of protection” and what can only be characterized as a shameless attempt, like his colleague Tony Hayward before Congress, to blame the entire Gulf disaster on equipment and process failure as opposed to gross negligence and disregard for safety.
While it is perhaps not surprising that BP stooges should be wont to put on a game face and loyally spout (sorry) the company line about “accident” and “equipment failure”, it remains true nevertheless that an as yet unidentified–read, er, unindicted–phalanx of middle and senior management officers at BP, both in the U.S. and at its parent in the U.K. are currently under criminal investigation.
Against that backdrop, the gall of execs like Conn, Hayward, and others in deliberately misrepresenting the events in public speeches as a matter of blameless happenstance is truly unnerving.
It is also glaringly tasteless if not morbid that Conn would openly correlate the death of eleven workers with the company’s relentless pursuit of more markets: “We should also recognise that the Deepwater Horizon accident raises wider questions about energy policy and energy security.”
Whatever happened to that other “other guy”?
Now hold on–LOON can hear some of you grimacing already–didn’t that Swedish toff with the overactive hands take over from Hayward? Right after the latter’s personal blow-out in front of the congressional oversight committee on June 17th when he kept coming up with non-responsive answers: “I wasn’t involved in that decision,”, “it wasn’t my department,” “it was already broken when I got there” and “you’ll have to ask someone who really gives a shit.”
The same dude who was outside on the White House lawn after meeting with President Obama and made the comment about “short people? We love the little bastards!” And then said that after all the dumb comments by Hayward, we would “be seeing more of him”?
So what happened to him?
Well, truth be known–an elusive creature at times–seems that old Carl-Henric Svanberg was a bigger flame-out in the P.R. department than Hayward. Hell, he may even break the record for sex scandals at BP that was set back in 2007 when Lord Browne had to bail after being caught “beggaring” his live-in Canadian paramour.
Alas, it appears that at BP, oil is not the only viscous, pressurized crude that executives have trouble keeping under a lid.
According to regurgitated reports from the Daily Mail and the New York Daily Post, while the Macondo well was spewing its demon spawn all over God’s sub-sea green earth in the days immediately following the Deepwater Horizon explosion–maybe even on the very day that the platform sank–the Talented Mr. Svanberg was off in Thailand on, you guessed it, a yachting holiday on his deluxe nookie barge, the 77-foot Cygnus Montannus II.
And if you were actually there in person to see the great vessel rocking from port to starboard, then kindly note that the topless blonde sandwiched between the Swedish skipper’s mizzenmast and foc’sle was not his long-suffering missus, Anagrit, or Anita, or Anacin, but a sexy, fifty-something traveling companion who, while not technically divorced from her husband back in the U.S.A., is a bit of a player-ette in her own right.
And she don’t shop at no IKEA
Enter, to fanfare of panpipes and naked nymphs tossing rose petals, Louise Julian, age 51, married mother-of-three, from Brookline, Massachusetts, hometown of such world-class jet-setters as Conan O’Brien.
So you’re getting the picture, hopefully, the one that Iain Conn and the rest of the bozos on the BP executive coach are trying their damnedest to distract you from seeing: Carl-Henric and his Swedish squeeze both au naturel sunning their lithe bodies in Phuket on a luxury sailboat fiddling away (with each other) as the Deepwater Horizon burned and then sank into Davy Jones’ locker.
And the Love Boat pleasure cruise didn’t end in Thailand’s pristine waters. Before the last of the champers had been drained from the icebox, the salacious Swedes carried on carrying on to far-flung locales in Australia, Bali and Singapore.
Then, just to make an honest man of him, Louise was a real trouper and agreed they should swing by BP’s corporate outpost in Houston, so Carlo could look in on the Gulf disaster watch.
People who can buy their way out of any crisis
But before we are accused of sowing prurient soap operatic discord, our due diligence department hastens to insert the following correctives: the super-Swedes began “dating” last November, so any implication that they were using the Deepwater Horizon disaster to heighten their carnal pleasure is unfounded.
Secondly, when Carlo-Enrico split from his ex– Abba?, Angelina?, sorry–and their three progeny, he laidout a cool U.S. $500 million. With a bigger grin on his puss than Tiger Woods, the Bjorn Borg of BP boinksters was able to sweep Julian off her feet with a clear conscience.
She was much the same story. Tossing aside her hubby, Gary, a ten-years-her-junior “head” of one of her company’s language schools, Louise claimed in court docs that there were “irreconcilable differences”–i.e., just compare his meagre stipend as Mr. Chips to what the Swedish swordsman pulls in (now that‘s a scandal!)
And if you thought that all divorce lawyers were unfeeling money grubbers, get a load of this prosaic creative writing in her court filings: “we were no longer able to communicate effectively and no longer shared the same goals.”
For his troubles, Gary will get a payout of just under $2 million and will keep the pile in Beaver Creek, Colorado. Brrrrr. She will get the matrimonial home in Brookline and their “other two homes” in Sweden.
And if you hadn’t guessed it already, turns out that “Weezy” is no slouch in the earnings department herself. As CEO of “EF”, an international language school that doubles as a travel agent that books school tours, in 2004 Julian was named Sweden’s “most powerful” business woman and the following year Fortune dubbed her “the most powerful businesswoman in the world.” One can almost hear collective stirring in her countrymen’s loins.
As the power-couple were canoodling not so discreetly, the death toll from the Deepwater Horizon explosion has risen to thirteen, BP’s share price has fallen by half and those of the company’s senior execs that remain non-horizontal and on dry land have been sent on a “charm offensive around the world in a bid to restore the company’s battered reputation.” That accounts for the non-stop appearances in late June by the likes of Conn (at the Oxford conference on June 29) and Steve Westwell (who stood in for a bunking Hayward at the World National Oil Companies shindig in London on June 21).
Business analysts are now speculating that BP could be moving into “takeover” land because of its plummeting book value. Meanwhile, the Macondo well continues to pour more and more crude oil into the Gulf of Mexico as there is no corresponding urgency–despite the company’s oft-repeated claims to the contrary–that stopping the spill is anywhere in sight.
If nothing else, BP’s conscienceless leaders can be proud that the Deepwater Horizon venture–which it bragged from the outset had set a record for being the “deepest” deepwater drilling operation–has now bypassed another landmark. Last week it broke the record for being the largest ever Gulf of Mexico oil spill that was set by the Ixtoc spill in 1979 and 1980 when 140-million gallons poured into the fragile ecosystem.
“If I had possession over judgment day…”
Which brings us back to where we started.
A bygone edition of BP’s internal magazine tells us gushingly (sorry) that “Iain Conn is the sort of chap you could imagine yourself following into the jungle”(fragging, anyone?) and that he is “relentlessly positive, clear thinking and articulate,” and “leavened by a dry Scottish humour that reveals the humanity beneath the corporate executive.”
Conn, we are told further, “is an inspirational leader” who “outside work…loves to play the blues, go fishing and spend time with his wife and three children.”
The blues and fishing connection are no doubt of great comfort to BP and Transocean‘s demoralized ranks in the Mississippi, the birthplace of Conn’s favourite musical genre, to say nothing of the depleted ranks of Louisiana’s shrimp fishing industry.
Just as it is uplifting that Tony Hayward’s U.S. understudy Bob Dudley hails from that storied Gulf coast heartland, Conn, we are told by BP’s propaganda department, “started playing ‘boogie woogie’ and blues on the piano and later the saxophone” while attending school in England.
“I still find playing the blues can change my mood for the better very quickly,” the magazine puff-piece quotes Conn with prescient irony.
“I woke up this morning and all my shrimp was dead and gone…”
BP continues to sing its ofay and durge-like corporate version of the delta blues and hopes the rest of us will be tempted to sing along.
Right after they deep-sixed Hayward from further lingual contact with Gulf coast locals, lest it give rise to mob justice, they had a “native son”, Bob Dudley, taking over as their second alternate “public face” (after Svanberg) since the explosion occurred two months back.
Now they’ve brought in another (dead) ringer.
And each of them unfailing picks up singing the same tune starting with four bars of lip service to the local victims. Then–if they don’t forget the lyrics–they take it to the bridge straight away, as Steve Westwell did back in June by emphasizing how crucial it is to keep drilling wherever oil, like true love, may be found.
Not to omit some mandatory local references to show their just plain folks human side: Westell ended his set at the global oil companies conference with a touching ode to Louisiana shrimp fishers to demonstrate BP’s emotional range and virtuosity at plucking the heartstrings. Then, end with a showstopping free-style rap in which the worldly Brit toasted to the crowd with a few words from Abe Lincoln.
One wonders what the likes of former Mississippians like Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, Robert Johnson, Son House, and Leadbelly, would think of the fact that a member of BP’s elite executive rank like Iain Conn soothes himself by tickling the ivories with their rough-hewn, rugged songs about hell-hounds, doomed romance, hard times and despotic boss men.
Or how Conn, with a total compensation package last year totaling $2.8 million, would be received if he were ever to actually set foot in one of the humble haunts in Mississippi or Louisiana that line the delta and Gulf coast highways and backroads and make up the “blues trail.”
But if you think that’s the only rehashed version of an old tune that Iain Conn can knock off, think again.
As BP’s former top exec in all things “safety”–he replaced the charismatic former safety honcho John Manzoni who got folks a little heated up five years ago when he complained that the inquiry into the fifteen deaths at BP’s Texas City refinery in 2005 was cutting into his free time–Conn also knows how to keep BP’s public relations mojo working even in the face of fatal accidents and worse.
As Conn crooned to the BP in-house mag biographer/publicist/hack four years ago about still another “tragic accident” in which a BP Colombia worker was killed in a pipeline explosion, he proves that if you can fake sincerity–in music, as in business–anything is possible:
“Safety in our operations is the most important part of my job and terrorism today is an additional challenge at a global level – most of the OECD world is vulnerable. I thought I understood why safety was important until the fatalities in Colombia. But when I had to talk to the co-workers of those who had died it struck home that probably no- one will remember how much money BP made last year. But those involved in a fatal accident will never, ever forget it.”
And if, by chance, Conn every takes to singing the blues again to help he and his BP chain-gang members get through the next business quarter without a dividend payment, may we respectfully make a request:
Dead Shrimp Blues by Robert Johnson.
Perhaps that song, played with its hallmark angst and edge by the man Eric Clapton called the most important blues musician who ever lived, will help set the mood when Iain Conn and the rest of his band finally sit down to settle the compensation claims of Louisiana’s Gulf coast fishermen and their families.
I woke up this mornin’, ooh, and all my shrimp was dead and gone
I was thinkin’ about you, baby, why you hear me weep and moan