Hayward: 'Sometimes you step off the kerb, and get knocked down by a bus'

Yesterday the curtain came down on Tony Hayward's chaotic tenure as BP chief executive. Sarah Arnott saw his final act
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Tony Hayward's poorly chosen words in the weeks since the Deepwater Horizon rig blew up in the Gulf of Mexico have hastened his fall from grace.

But yesterday, on his final day as BP chief executive, he got it right.

"Sometimes you step off the pavement and you get hit by a bus," a stunned Mr Hayward told the media in London, neatly summing up the events that have brought to a close his 30-year stint in the oil industry.

Three months after explosion that killed 11 people and unleashed the worst oil spill in US history, Mr Hayward is to step down from his job as BP chief executive, to be replaced by a US colleague, Bob Dudley.

The announcement of the "mutual agreement" between Mr Hayward and BP came as little surprise after a series of gaffes left Mr Hayward branded "the most hated and clueless man in America". But there was no hiding his heartbreak, despite a severance package worth up to £12m and a non-executive place on the board of BP's Russian joint venture TNK-BP. After stressing that the loss of life in the rig disaster put all subsequent events into context, an exhausted-looking Mr Hayward said the announcement of his departure was "a very sad day for me personally".

"My entire career has been at BP. I love the company and everything it stands for," he said, describing the move as a "practical matter" after he was "demonised and vilified" in the US. "BP can't move on as a company in the US with me as its leader," he said. "I don't know if that will assuage the politicians or not but it is the right thing to stand down."

Mr Hayward made some huge PR errors in the aftermath of the disaster that has pumped more than five million barrels of oil into the Gulf and tarred beaches from Texas to Florida. The first sign of trouble was his early suggestion the environmental impact was likely to be "very, very modest". A later quip that he "would like his life back", and a day off to go yacht-racing with his son, were even worse. And at a mammoth grilling by the US Congress Energy Committee he was lambasted as evasive and difficult, with one committee member accusing him of avoiding his responsibility and "kicking the can down the road".

But despite his obvious deflation, Mr Hayward mounted an unapologetic defence of BP's "unprecedented" response to the disaster, saying it has been a "model" of corporate responsibility that "not many other companies could have contemplated, let alone done". He also pointed to the successes – the "extraordinary engineering feat" of the latest efforts to cap the well, the scale of the clean-up and the claims process for compensation. "Was I even close to perfect? Absolutely not. With the benefit of hindsight, would I have done things differently? Of course. But would I change fundamentally what BP did and the role I played? No," Mr Hayward said.

And he could not resist a final side-swipe at the US political establishment that has gone after him with such savagery. He will not be appearing at another Congressional hearing, on Thursday, to answer allegations that BP lobbied for the release of Lockerbie bomber Abdel Basset al-Megrahi to help it win oil contracts in Libya. "I have a busy week so we are sending someone else," he said. US Senators consequently postponed the hearing, citing the refusal of key witnesses, including Mr Hayward, to appear.

The tragedy at the Macondo well makes a mockery of Mr Hayward's promise, when he took the top job three years ago, to focus "laser-like" on safety. But company insiders and industry commentators alike agree he has made progress in transforming the buccaneering culture fostered by his predecessor, Lord Browne.

The task of addressing BP's safety record now moves to Mr Dudley, who takes over on 1 October. His brief will be to take the company forward: selling off $30bn-worth of assets to fund compensation claims, dealing with the fall-out from official investigations into the disaster and rehabilitating BP's deeply tarnished image in the US.

Carl-Henric Svarnberg, the BP chairman, yesterday paid tribute to the out-going boss. "[Tony Hayward] has done a good job at BP all through almost 30 years and also as chief executive." Mr Svarnberg also denied that Mr Dudley's US nationality was the deciding factor in his appointment, describing him as a well-travelled "international man" after 30 years in the oil industry. Mr Dudley added his voice to the commendations of Mr Hayward's leadership. "I have the greatest admiration for Tony Hayward – for what he has done as chief executive, how he has transformed the company and his unwavering dedication to ensure BP met it commitments to the people of the US Gulf coast," he said.

With Greenpeace activists closing down petrol stations across London in protest at BP's environmental record, he also took the opportunity to stress his awareness of the challenges ahead. "These kinds of changes don't happen overnight ... but now we've had this incident we need to accelerate those changes," he said. But the final word was for Mr Hayward. "Whether it is fair or not is not the point," he said of his departure. "The fact is that life isn't fair. We all know that."

The resignation: 'I feel responsible – regardless of where blame lies'

Hayward's statement:

"The Gulf of Mexico explosion was a terrible tragedy for which – as the man in charge of BP when it happened – I will always feel a deep responsibility, regardless of where blame is ultimately found to lie.

"From day one I decided that I would personally lead BP's efforts to stem the leak and contain the damage, a logistical operation unprecedented in scale and cost. We have now capped the oil flow and we are doing everything within our power to clean up the spill and to make restitution to everyone with legitimate claims.

"I would like to thank all of the BP people involved in the response and the many thousands of others along the Gulf Coast who have joined us in our efforts.

"I believe the decision I have reached with the board to step down is consistent with the responsibility BP has shown throughout these terrible events. BP will be a changed company as a result of Macondo and it is right that it should embark on its next phase under new leadership.

"I will be working closely with Bob Dudley over the coming months to ensure a smooth transition. It has been a privilege to serve BP for nearly 30 years and to lead it for the last three. I am sad to leave so many fine colleagues and friends who have helped this great company to achieve so much over the years. I am sorry that achievement has been overshadowed by the tragedy in the Gulf of Mexico."