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A Responsible BP Must Go Beyond Petroleum

Tuesday, 27 Jul 2010 | 12:18 PM ET

As BP prepares for a major image overhaul, what can we expect from incoming CEO Robert Dudley?

BP CEO Tony Hayward
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BP CEO Tony Hayward

It wasn’t Tony Hayward's lack of management skills or inept strategizing that have led to his departure, but a realization that he is, according to a Wall Street Journal report, "no longer seen as able to address one of the company's most crucial tasks: repairing BP's reputation and restoring its credibility in the critical U.S. market."

So will a new CEO be able to turn the company around?

The biggest challenge for Dudley is going to be reconfiguring the company culture toward rigorous accountability. Going forward, corporate social responsibility (CSR) will have a new found meaning at BP. (For those who think of CSR as charity and community service, it is essential to note that it extends internally to aspects like a company's diversity practices, accountability standards, transparent business decisions, corporate governance, as well as promoting a healthy and safe work culture.)

For Dudley, this is going to mean re-strategizing every piece of the company's decision making process, taking a second look at the hierarchical setup in place, reintroducing checks and balances, as well as aligning final outcomes with a sense of accountability.

"Today, not only has BP's motto come under pressure externally, but has instigated soul searching within BP's ranks." -The Vault.com, Aman Singh

For a company that reports over 80,000 employees worldwide, this alone will test everything Dudley's got. Beyond Petroleum the marketing campaign was the result of a painstakingly long plan spread over years—but that’s all it was, a carefully constructed marketing plan meant for external stakeholders, which suggested that CSR was at the heart of BP , but did little to show any evidence of it. Today, not only has this motto come under pressure externally, but has instigated soul searching within BP's ranks.

There are already suggestions that Dudley understands the importance and size of the task ahead. In an interview with ABC News, the oil giant's first non-British CEO had this to say: "Sometimes events like this shake you to the core, the foundation, and you have two responses. One is to run away and hide, the other is to respond and really change the culture of the company and make sure all the checks and balances are there, just to make sure this does not happen again."

While he does a good job of connecting the dots and acknowledging the necessity of cultural change at BP, only time will show whether his commitment extends beyond instilling new safety guidelines.

This in no small measure depends on how realistically Dudley and gang understand that today's marketplace requires a lot more from a company to establish long term sustainability. And it starts from a basic tenet: A successful company's business model and strategy must encompass corporate responsibility in all forms—internal and external. While BP has done the external part right for many years, it will require some in-depth introspection from its management team to get the internal part realigned.

AsErnst & Young's CEO Jim Turley once put it, our professions operate on trust. And in an economy that is testing companies' survival instincts more than ever before, regaining trust will mean stepping away from a culture that promotes profits before safety and employee wellbeing. This might become BP's biggest challenge yet.

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Aman Singh is the Corporate Responsibility Editor at Vault.com. She is a New York University alum and previously wrote for The Wall Street Journal. Her area of work includes corporate diversity practices and sustainability, and how they translate into recruitment and strategic development at Fortune 1000 companies. Connect with her on Twitter @VaultCSR.

Comments? Send them to executivecareers@cnbc.com

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