BP insists senior executive's outburst is not a veiled attack on Lord Browne

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BP yesterday denied reports that a series of stinging criticisms of the company's management, culture and cost-cutting were meant as an attack on Lord Browne by a leading candidate to replace him.

Tony Hayward, chief executive for exploration and production worldwide, whipped up a storm after giving a brutally candid view of the company's failings before thousands of employees at the company's operations in Houston, Texas.

He said: "We have a leadership style that probably is too directive and doesn't listen sufficiently well. The top of the organisation doesn't listen hard enough to what the bottom of the organisation is saying.

"We have a management style that has made a virtue out of doing more for less. The mantra of more-for-less says that we can get 100 per cent of the task completed with 90 per cent of the resources, which in some senses is OK and might work, but it needs to be deployed with great judgement and wisdom. When it isn't you run into trouble." Mr Hayward went on to say that the "frontline operations teams" had "lived too long in the world of making do and patching up this quarter for the next quarter ... rather than thinking about how we are going to maintain a piece of equipment for the next 30 or 40 years."

These problems, in his view, could be corrected by "behavioural changes" that would have to "start at the top of the organisation".

The comments were reported on an internal company website for staff, but were released yesterday. The company pointed out that Mr Hayward's criticism was levelled at himself as much as anyone else.

And a spokesman insisted that his views should not be seen as an attack on Lord Browne, who has been repeatedly voted businessman of the year and will step down at the end of 2008.

He said: "He [Mr Hayward] was giving an end-of- year update, highlighting things that have gone well and things that have not gone so well and saying that he was taking responsibility for the good and for the bad.

"We don't agree that this was an attack on Lord Browne at all. He was very much talking about responsibility resting with him and the rest of the senior team."

BP has been unusually accident-prone in the past couple of years, and has been hit with a string of negative stories. These include the Texas City oil refinery explosion, the response to last year's hurricanes in the US and pipeline difficulties that badly hit the Alaskan operations this year.