BP leadership and the line between determination and obsession

March 24, 2011

Author Shahzad Khan

by Shahzad Khan

John Brown, former CEO of BP wrote in his biography of the dangers of losing balance when ‘determination and enthusiasm turn into obsession’. The outcomes of his leadership and that of his successor Tony Hayward seem to confirm this

BP is a major energy company globally in terms of oil and gas reserves. Its progress has been accompanied by a range of mergers and acquisitions (US Standard Oil Company, Britoil North Sea Exploration Company, ARCO, Amoco, Solarex and Burma’s Castrol.) However, the company’s growth has been accompanied by a number of accidents and safety-related violations which have had tragic environmental and personal consequences.

Lord Browne the deal maker

Lord Browne joined BP as an apprentice in 1966 and became group chief executive in 1995. He was credited for much of BP’s success during his 12 year reign. He is considered a charismatic deal maker. His political connections with head of states were reported as significant negotiations in some of his business deals. Such a high-profile leader is seen as achieving the positive but also the negative results of his organization. Lord Browne was eventually forced to resign in 2007 three years ahead of his planned departure from the company for a personal scandal.

After its merger with Amoco in 1999, the former British Petroleum company was renamed and rebranded with a new Helios logo associated with the Sun God Helios. The media even began to label Lord Browne as the new Sun King.

The rise and fall of Tony Hayward

His favored replacement Tony Hayward was also to be forced to resign. The press seized on remarks cited by Harvard business guru Rosabeth Moss Cantor:

About a week after the April 20 explosion, Hayward was quoted in the New York Times asking his executive team, “What the hell did we do to deserve this?” Recently, he declared that “I want my life back.”

The dark side of charismatic leadership?
The patterns of behavior of both BP leaders is similar can be found in discussion of dilemmas of charismatic leadership by the American leadership scholar Jay Conger. Both Browne and Hayward believed in their ‘visions’. Admiration by media and business associates fuelled their charismatic styles. The dark side of Lord Browne as mentioned in his own accounts is that commitment to his vision for the company’s future meant that he ignored day to day operations of the core business activity. Someone noted that he used “I” a lot versus “we” in his book, in reference to BP’s successes. He may also fit a description of a pseudo level-five leader by Jim Collins: someone with an inflated ego presenting or promoting themselves as the most valuable asset for the company. One lesson from these cases may be the danger of letting a vision blind a leader from evidence that things are going seriously wrong at ground level.

To go more deeply

1. Mason, R. (2010). Beyond business: by Lord Browne: a review. The Telegraph
2. Irving, C. (2010). Why is BP’s former boss a UK hero? The Daily Beast
3. Campbell, R. (2007). BP corporate culture lambasted. Thompson Reuters,
4. Salama, A, Holland, W and Vinten, G. (2003) Challenges and opportunities in mergers and acquisitions: three international case studies-Deutsche Bank-Bankers Trust; British Petroleum-Amoco; Ford-Volvo, Journal of European industrial training 27(6), 313-321.
5. Kanter, R.M. (2010). BP’s Tony Hayward and the failure of leadership accountability. Harvard business school publishing

6 After the post was written: The Guardian reported that Lord Browne is considering acquiring assets up for sale by his old organization [Editor, LWD].

The case was written from an assignment prepared as past of the Global Events and Leadership module which introduces the Manchester Business School’s Global MBA program. The views expressed are those of the author.

The nuclear crisis in Japan and why your creativity is needed

March 17, 2011

Tudor Rickards

Many people in and outside Japan believe that Japanese people are not particularly creative. This is a fallacy. There is plenty of contrary evidence from its great companies. However, its culture is more disposed to incremental creativity rather than to radical breakthrough ideas. This becomes important in its response to crises. The Fukuyama nuclear crisis demonstrates the need for creative actions.

Over the last week, the world has watched with horror as the dreadful tragedy of the earthquake and Tusnami was followed by escalating problems at the Fukuyama nuclear plant. Various efforts to restrict the consequences of radiation leakage have been tried. In general, however, the crisis management seems to have proceeded in an over-linear way. By that, I mean that standard or pre-planned responses were initiated. Once there was evidence that Plan A was failing, a Plan B idea was attempted.

So, for example, once it became clear that cooling water was needed, a Plan B was suggested to dump water from a helicopter. Once this Plan B was found to expose the pilots to unacceptable risks of radiation, a Plan C was tried, as water cannon were mobilized.

A different way

My concern, based on involvement in numerous creativity sessions attempting to support industrial crisis situations, is that there is a need for large numbers of possible ideas, some of which appear hopelessly unrealistic at first. Furthermore, efforts need to be directed towards multiple ‘mini-scenarios’ which involve as many teams as can be engaged with the creative effort. It can be argued that this is a form of work requiring creative leadership. If carried out with pre-training, the teams can be expected to come up with more, and better possibilities.

It can’t be done

One aspect of such creative work. The most promising ideas are almost always emergent. They are far from obvious at the start of the meetings. When suggested to others in the early stages of idea development they are likely to be greeted with ‘expert’ evidence that they are not feasible.

What might work better

What might work better is a response through social media. The ideas can be generated in large numbers and from multiple perspectives very rapidly. The sheer scale of ideas needs to be managed (the so-called variety-reduction process). I estimate there are thousands of teams who have worked in creativity mode on industrial crisis problems all over the world. But the capacity for self-organisation of such an effort is immense.

Let’s get started

Let’s get started. Hold on to a few basic principles for creative effectiveness. Collaborate with others by improving the unusual ideas, particularly if you can see concealed strengths, perhaps through technical know-how. Look for ideas close to a specific action requiring a short time-period for implementation.
And remember, impossibility is often a matter of perspective not logic.

My first idea is to get this message to students and colleagues who collectively have something to contribute. Creativity can also ‘go critical’. My next idea is to work with colleagues on the matter this morning and identify bloggers who might also be interested.

Not just in my backyard

This blog site is too insignificant of itself to be more than a catalyst. Please spread its proposal as far as you can.

The author

The author has worked in nuclear science (radiation chemistry) as well as in various projects internationally which have generated industrial innovations through applying creative problem-solving techniques

Red Cross and other useful links

The red cross appeal is one charity appealing for funds to support the wider humanitarian crisis in Japan. This Google site is a further great source of information. See also comments to this post, and also for discussion on Risk management

Leaders We Deserve: Jack Lalanne

March 16, 2011

Eugene Weinstein

Appreciation written by Eugene Weinstein

Jack Lalanne (September 26, 1914 – January 23, 2011) was a key figure in American physical culture. His career as a public health advocate started in the 1930s following his encounter with Paul Bragg, an early healthy lifestyle enthusiast. His work remains relevant especially in light of the obesity crisis facing the US

Paul Bragg himself followed in the footsteps of Bernarr McFadden, a legendary and original public figure who combined sexual liberation and a healthy living message. Yet, unlike McFadden, who has much in common with Larry Flynt, together with two trials for the distribution of the obscene materials, and being a father of tabloids and avid participant of many scandals, Jack Lalanne throughout his life has maintained controlled and largely scandal-free image. His secret may be that was gay, a hypothesis supported by his psychosocial profile as well as by some candid pictures on the web.

Nobody came out of the closet at his time

If he was, nobody came out of the closet at his time, and it probably would hurt his image to be openly gay, even in California, a forerunner state for gay rights in the US. (One of the slurs aimed at the flamboyantly heterosexual McFadden was that he was gay, and it did damage his career).

The essence of Jack Lalanne’s message was clear – eat right and exercise and you will never die, never be sick, and never be unhappy. This is largely hyperbole, even for people who dedicate themselves to physical culture and who live healthy lives. The untimely death at the age of 70 of one of my Aikido teachers, Seiichi Sugano-sensei, reminded me recently of this sad fact. He battled diabetes in the last ten years of his life, losing his foot to it in 2003 but continued to teach until the three months before his passing on of cancer earlier this year.

Why is Jack Lalanne’s message effective?

So why is Jack Lalanne’s message effective? The theme that comes across very clearly in every interview is his wanting to help people. For his audience, which largely consisted of out-of-shape and overweight people, his message did ring true. It was also fundamentally and medically sound, even though he did not have formal medical education. Some of his ideas, like his aversion to milk and milk products, may be controversial, but most have withstood the test of time.

Jack Lalanne was an innovator

Jack Lalanne was also an innovator in the health and fitness world and also in business. He was the first to introduce a co-ed health facility, and to found a country-wide gym empire. He created a powerful marketing machine to promote his message and his business, so that in 2002 his endorsement of a juicer helped create a juicer empire.

Telling a story

When talking to his audience on his TV show, Jack Lalanne almost always told a story. Most of his stories are founded in his personal history. They often conveyed a sense of loss and guilt related to the passing of his father who did not listen to his message and died early and of his mother who did listen and lived a long life.
Such an account resonated with family-orientated women in his audience and is psychologically a marked departure from McFadden’s macho slogan “Weakness is a crime. Don’t be a criminal.” Nevertheless, while it is true that his father died early, it was his mother, a strict Adventist, who taught the young Jack Lalanne the value of diet and exercise.


Jack Lalanne promoted his messages by means of a number of feats such as swimming from Alcatraz to Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco in handcuffs, and claiming the word record in push-ups. Yet we do not find any record of him ever being a brawler or a prize fighter. He did not look or sound aggressive in discussing his feats, unlike other famous stuntmen such as McFadden and Evil Knievel.

“Jumping Jacks”

Lalanne’s impact on American society has been multifaceted. If the word “fad” may have been coined to refer to Bernarr McFadden, then “Jumping Jacks” are clearly a trademark of Jack Lalanne. This is the name that kids in America call the star jump, an exercise well known in the world and popularized Jack Lalanne. His work does not lack continuity – Jane Fonda being a notable example of a high-profile exercise celebrity influenced by him. He received many awards has been inducted in the California Hall of Fame. A legend in his lifetime, Jack Lalanne’s larger-than-life legacy will endure.


You can catch up on recent news stories of Jack Lalanne here. [TR]

Sad Murray undercooked, and outplayed by Donald Young

March 13, 2011

Andy Murray took a break from Tennis after the Australian Open. On his return at Indian Wells he was outplayed by the energy and power of qualifier Donald Young

There are various explanations for this shock loss [March 12th 2011]. Murray took a month’s break after the crushing loss in the Australian Open final. Donald Young, a talented qualifier was more match-tight and played in the zone. On the other hand …

the up and down pattern in Andy Murray’s play continues. In contrast, Del Potro has eased his way back into action after a far more serious lay-off. Murray’s great strengths of eye-ball coordination and matchless ‘supershot’ play remain, but may even be part of the total package which now seems to in need of a freshening up. Even a top coach will not be a magic solution, although Andy may reach the conclusion that a different training set-up is worth the effort

Patterns of behaviour are hard to change. “If you always do….”.


acknowledgement of image: Longislandtennis.com

Hawk-Eye gobbled up by Sony. Is this a good strategic match?

March 8, 2011

Hawk-eye, the tiny innovative sports technology firm, has been gobbled up by the global giant Sony. There is considerable appeal for large firms to acquire creative talent. But is this a good strategic match?

At first sight, the takeover of Hawk-Eye by Sony [March 2011] has marketing logic behind it. Sony has successfully diversified through sophisticated technological innovation in the electronic games market. It has recently announced a deal to deliver 3D at the next Wimbledon tennis championships. The move comes at a time when Sony is preparing to announce a major internal restructuring

The tiny firm Hawk-Eye is synonymous with a technological capability in the sports market and has niche market leadership in tracking devices used as decision-support systems. Intuitively, there seems synergy with Sony’s play station technological knowhow in its competition with Nintendo.

The firm is also well-placed to be the official supplier of such a system for Football, although the debate over the use of goal-line technology still rages on.

Paul Hawkins

Dr Paul Hawkins is the entrepreneur behind the Hawk-Eye system. He has been associated with the firm since its inception, and has some backing from the cricketing establishment. Initial reports suggest he will continue to play a part in the development of the technology within the mighty Sony empire.

Sports technology

The Hawk-Eye official website summarises its sports technology focus:

Hawk-Eye is the most sophisticated officiating tool used in any sport. It is accurate, reliable and practical: fans now expect and demand it to be a part of every event. Hawk-Eye first made its name in Cricket broadcasting, yet the brand has diversified into Tennis, Snooker and Coaching. Hawk-Eye is currently developing a system for Football (Soccer).

In Tennis the technology is an integral part of the ATP, WTA and ITF tennis tours, featuring at the Masters Cup in Shanghai, the US Open, the Australian Open, the Wimbledon Championships and all high-profile events. Hawk-Eye is the only ball-tracking device to have passed stringent ITF testing measures.

Hawk-Eye’s Cricket systems were used by host broadcasters at the 2006 ICC Champions Trophy, the 2007 World Cup and have been present at major Test and ODI series around the world since 2001. Hawk-Eye offers a unique blend of innovation, experience and accuracy that has revolutionised the sporting world.

When large firms acquire creative minnows

There is considerable appeal for large firms to acquire creative talent. The business model is to provide resources that are often needed to support creative growth. The small firm escapes the hazards of dealing with venture capitalists and other equally demanding sources of finance. In practice, the process may prove unpalatable for the entrepreneur unaccustomed to large company structures and politics.

Entrepreneurship and retailing: The Grigor McClelland Conference

This post was prepared as part of the celebrations planned for The Grigor McClelland Conference to be held at Manchester Business School, Friday April 8th, 2011.

Schubert compares Gadhafi with patterns of tyrannical leadership

March 4, 2011

Jeff Schubert, a frequent commentator for Leaders We Deserve, assesses Gadhafi based on his own extensive studies of tyrannical leaders

Understanding “Dictators” like Gadhafi [Posted 4 March 2011]

Commenting on events in Libya, Jason Pack (St.Antony’s College, Oxford), who has had significant experience in Libya, recently wrote:

As policy makers the world over speculate about what Gadhafi will do next, they should look to the leader’s upbringing, psychology and ideology for clues. To get the true measure of the man and his motivations, one must see past the rambling demagoguery and YouTube parodies. After his bloodless coup d’etate in 1969, Gadhafi struck Westerners who met him as charismatic, confident and idealistic.” Despite his brutality, Gadhafi, sees himself as a “philosopher-king” and is angry and bitter that his “utopian vision” has not been realized. “He is prone to paranoid conspiracy theories about how outside actors have ruined his precious vision because they cannot afford to see his utopia succeed. Assured of his own righteousness, Gadhafi will fight to the bitter end with whatever trusted advisers and praetorian guards will stick by his side.

I do not know whether or not Pack’s assessments are correct, but I like his approach to the issue. Rather than simply saying that Gadhafi is a “bad mad man”, he has recognized that Gadhafi – like all self-made dictators who have survived in power for a long time (in this case 40 years) – has an idealistic side which attracts supporters.

When the writer Emil Ludwig asked Stalin why “everybody” in his country feared him, Stalin rejoined: “Do you really believe a man could maintain his position of power for fourteen years merely by intimidation? Only by making people afraid?”

Of course not!

Stalin – like Hitler and Mao – had ideals. The Yugoslavian politician, Milovan Djilas, who had close dealings with Stalin and his lieutenants from 1944, noted that in Stalin, “certain great and final ideals lay hidden – his ideals, which he could approach by moulding and twisting the reality and the living men who comprised it”.

In my view Pack is being “realistic”. Such realism could also be applied to such people as Robert Mugabe and Fidel Castro. But there is another side to this. Just as many in the West fall into the trap seeing only bad in such dictators, they also fail to see that these “idealistic” traits can drive leaders of their own countries to cruelty – and such leaders can attract many supporters. Psychologically, I think that Tony Blair is the sort of personality who – if had been born in Libya about the same time as Gadhafi – could easily have become a Gadhafi. And, many who have supported Blair over the years would even have been Gadhafi-type supporters. Their sense of “idealism” and their “own righteousness” blinds them to their own cruelty in supporting suppressive regimes and countries.

Gustave M Gilbert, in “The Psychology of Dictatorship: based on an examination of the leaders of Nazi Germany”, wrote about the ability of “decent” people to compartmentalize their thinking so that they can combine idealism with cruelty.

As a general principle …. the normal social process of group identification and hostility-reaction brings about a selective constriction of empathy, which, in addition to the semi-conscious suppression of insight, enables normal people to condone or participate in the most sadistic social aggression without feeling it or realising it.”

Many Germans and many Americans (in the case of their treatment of blacks) when confronted with these inconsistencies in their professed behavior as decent citizens, recognise the inconsistency intellectually, but still find it difficult to modify their behavior. Insight is not sufficient to overcome the deeply-rooted social conditioning of feelings.

Gustave was writing about the internal workings of societies, and specifically countries. But, in the sense that the people of the world are also a society, the same psychological processes apply. In my view, Blair and many others—despite all their idealism—have seen Arabs in the way described by Gilbert.

When leadership fails the individual and society is weakened: The murder of Shahbaz Bhatti

March 3, 2011

Without leadership, there is little to protect individual rights of freedom of speech, liberty, and even of survival from actions of primitive brutality. Transformational leadership can elevate society. It can also drag it down

This week we learned of the violent death of Pakistan’s minorities minister Shahbaz Bhatti [Wed March 2nd 2011].

In the space of a few months, two political leaders have been assassinated in Pakistan. Both had made public stance which others considered to have offended their religious beliefs. The Government of Pakistan appears to be unable to protect individual rights.

Transformational leadership

Some decades ago a newish idea about leadership became popular. Leaders were said to be transformational, able to act so that people could become less self-oriented.

But from the outset, the idea of transformational leadership ran into a horrendous dilemma which became known as The Hitler problem. Didn’t Hitler transform a generation to accepting a belief that placed the State above the individual? Was this not a fine example of transformational leadership?

The dark side

Transformational leadership from a Ghandi or a Mandela elevates societies. Transformational leadership also can enable acts of genocide, crimes against humanity, political and religious assassinations in the name of patriotism, or a religious belief or even to protect personal power and economic wealth.