Bunhill: Why BP failed in Red Sea crossing

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The Independent Online
PLENTY of column inches have been expended examining the problems at BP that led to the recent exit of its chairman, Bob Horton.

But none are as original as those in a new book, Wake Up and Shake Up Your Company, by Richard Koch and Andrew Campbell. They take as their premise the simple question, is your company worth believing in? The best corporate leaders, they maintain, are those who inspire a sense of purpose in their staff and give them a corporate religion to follow.

To illustrate the point, they compare an ancient epic journey - the flight of Moses and the Israelites from Egypt across the Red Sea - with what went wrong at BP.

As soon as he was made chairman in 1990, Horton set about shaking up BP. Wrong, say the authors. Before embarking on his policy, he should have checked the rest of the staff were behind him - they should have been convinced of the need for change. 'If Horton had spent more time thinking about the cause and less time preparing a blueprint of the Promised Land, we believe he would have been more successful.'

By not paying enough attention to BP's financial condition before setting off, Horton did not check that his people were strong enough for the journey: 'Don't cross the Red Sea unless you are confident of the short-term health of the organisation.'

Moses, the authors say, gained the support of the core leaders who helped him found a new society. Fatally, Horton was not conspiratorial enough with his board: 'Don't cross the Red Sea unless you have a quorum of support.'

Finally, he littered the journey with vision and values statements. He was too impatient. 'Remember you are founding a corporate religion. Don't produce tablets of stone until you have visited Mount Sinai.' Weird - but it might just save other company bosses from the same fate.

(Photograph omitted)

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