Bob Dudley: can he fix it?

Bob Dudley, BP’s 54-year old Mississippi-raised managing director for the Americas and Asia, looks likely to take over from Tony Hayward as chief executive.

Mr Hayward lost the confidence of the US people and politicians after facing criticism for his handling of the explosion at the Deepwater Horizon rig and ensuing gusher, and his series of unfortunate public statements made matters worse.

A day before the company announces its results for the first half of 2010, investors are expecting Mr Hayward to resign and the softly spoken American to step, in an attempt to ensure the survival of the company’s future in the US.

But who is Bob Dudley? Deemed a safe pair of hands, and described by Mr Hayward as the “management team’s foreign secretary”, Mr Dudley was appointed to co-ordinate BP’s Gulf of Mexico clean-up and compensation efforts a month ago, having taken over that role from the chief executive last month.

He has been in the oil industry for most of his life, beginning his career with Amoco in 1979 and then moving to BP when it took over the US company in 1998.

An executive assistant to John Browne, the former chief executive, he oversaw operations in Russia and other areas before heading TNK-BP, BP’s Russian joint venture that aimed to exploit the oil fields in eastern Siberia. He then joined the BP board in April last year as a managing director on a salary of $2.2m (£1.5m).

But it was as head of TNK-BP that Mr Dudley made his name. His steely resolve was tested when he was at the centre of a dispute between BP and the company’s billionaire Russian shareholders over the control of the business in 2008, when they accused him of favouring BP. The increasingly politicised situation led to BP’s technical staff being barred from working in Russia by a Siberian court. TNK-BP’s Moscow offices were also raided by security services. It was then that he was forced to flee Russia, stating that he had “sustained harassment” from TNK-BP’s Russian oligarch co-owners.

But while Mr Dudley was boss, from the formation of the group in 2003, TNK-BP increased oil output 33 per cent to 1.6m barrels per day, which supporters see as evidence that he has the skills to manage a big oil company.

BP, which has often been described by Americans as “Public Enemy Number One” since the oil spill, could turn a new leaf in terms of public perception if the British company were to be run by an American. The timing of the change might be problematic, given that there is still not yet a permanent solution for the spill in place, Mr Dudley is the safest bet for BP. The company’s shareholders will be keeping their fingers crossed that the diplomat can fix the massive damage to BP’s reputation.