That image of Mr. Newman contrasts with his solemn, brooding presence at the Congressional hearings about the accident. His square jaw and bald head have given the former rig manager and Harvard Business School graduate the mien of a boxer at the witness table.
He has, at times, visibly bristled at the ring of eyeballs and television cameras — as well as the technologically unsophisticated questions of lawmakers unfamiliar with the offshore drilling industry.
“You are the manufacturer of the blowout preventer that did not work,” declared Senator Bill Nelson, Democrat of Florida, at a hearing last week.
“We are not the manufacturer of the blowout preventer,” Mr. Newman responded coolly. “We own the blowout preventer.” The device was manufactured by Cameron .
Between Congressional hearings, Mr. Newman has traveled back to Transocean’s new headquarters in Zug, Switzerland. The company, which had formerly been based in the Cayman Islands and earlier, in Houston, moved to Switzerland in 2008 after years of tax disputes with the United States government over Transocean’s treatment of losses and capital gains.
Those disputes, totaling $698 million, are unresolved, and the company is involved in tax dispute in Norway.
As oil companies have sought oil in ever-deeper waters around the world, Transocean’s revenues have grown an average of 34 percent annually since 2004, according to Morningstar.
The company has a backlog of over $30 billion in contracts, none of which have been canceled since the accident. Some of its growth has come from decades of acquisitions, in particular its merger with GlobalSantaFe nearly three years ago.
Most analysts and legal experts say Transocean’s liabilities in the gulf spill are probably limited. Under its contract for the Deepwater Horizon, BP agreed to assume all losses, expenses, fines and claims for pollution or contamination. And under the Oil Pollution Act, the well’s owners, principally BP, are responsible for paying for cleanup costs.
Transocean is trying hard to protect itself. It has filed a petition in United States District Court in Houston to limit its liability to $26.7 million, trying to use a clause in an 1851 maritime law to hold liability to the value of the rig and its cargo.
BP would probably be able to recover damages from Transocean only if investigators found the company was guilty of gross negligence, said Tracy Hester, a visiting assistant law professor at the University of Houston.
Transocean is also facing a multitude of lawsuits for the 11 deaths and myriad injuries caused by the Deepwater Horizon explosion.
The company carries $950 million of third-party liability coverage for personal injuries and property damage. But even if its out-of-pocket costs for the accident are minimal, that is surely little solace for a multinational corporation that had come to see itself — through its technological derring-do and its ability to push the frontiers of offshore drilling — as exceptional.
In an interview published in a Transocean corporate magazine before the accident, Mr. Newman was asked where he would like to see the company in the next five or 10 years.
“I think the hallmark of our organization has always been around innovation and technology development,” Mr. Newman replied. Asked what the company could be doing better, he said, “First of all, we have to improve our safety performance.”