Profile: Elusive chairman who now has to face the President

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The Independent US

He has been the invisible man of the BP oil spill disaster – but next week he takes centre stage.

Carl-Henric Svanberg is the chairman of the troubled oil giant, yet he has hardly been seen or heard in reference to the spill since the Deepwater Horizon exploded and sank in the Gulf of Mexico nearly two months ago.

The Swedish businessman has been content to let the company's chief executive, Tony Hayward, do all the talking – and field all the flak – since the crisis began, a stance for which he has come in for increasing criticism.

Now, however, Mr Svanberg is about to become a major player in the drama, having been summoned by Admiral Thad Allen, who is leading the US response team, to the White House with other BP executives for a meeting with President Obama next Wednesday. As the President looks to keep the pressure on BP, not least to relieve the pressure on himself and his administration over the seemingly unending crisis, it is unlikely that the encounter will be a comfortable one.

Mr Svanberg, 58, is one of the leading industrial figures in Sweden. Until the end of last year he was boss of the Swedish telecoms business Ericsson, a company he ran for six years, and before that Assa Abloy. He joined the board of BP in September 2009 and succeeded Peter Sutherland as chairman on 1 January this year. His BP chairman's salary is £750,000.

Born in the village of Porjus in Lapland in northern Sweden, Mr Svanberg was married to Agneta, an associate professor at Uppsala University, with whom he has three children, for 26 years until they divorced last September. His recreation is ice hockey – a former player himself, he remains a huge fan and serves on the board of Djurgardens IF Hockey, a club in Stockholm.

He has received an increasing amount of criticism for his back-seat role in the oil spill crisis, and has been accused of "letting his CEO hang out to dry". One of his few reported statements on the matter has been that he "expected an easier ride" as chairman – which is likely to be remembered alongside Mr Hayward's comment that he wanted his life back as one of the more inappropriate remarks of the saga.