BP boss Bob Dudley is a man who bears all the scars of the ruthless oil business
Oil, so the cliché goes, is the earth’s lifeblood. It is what powers our vehicles, lubricates our machines and helps drive a nation’s economy.
Our hopeless addiction to the stuff means it has been responsible for more international fisticuffs than any other industry since time began.
‘The excrement of the devil,’ was how Opec founder Juan Pablo Perez Alfonzo’s described it, and he wasn’t wrong.
This murkiest of businesses is not for the faint heart. Practitioners must do battle with, among others, ruthless speculators and tinpot regimes, all the while deflecting the constant brickbats of the shouty environmental lobby.
And BP’s Bob Dudley, 62, is a man who bears all the scars.
His appointment as boss of BP in 2010 came amid the Deepwater Horizon disaster, the largest oil spill in history.
As thousands of gallons of black ooze pumped into the Gulf of Mexico, the company share price plummeted almost as quickly as its reputation.
Thanks to his predecessor Tony Hayward’s handling of events, the saga had already turned the British giant into the most hated organisation on the planet barring Al-Qaeda.
But Dudley didn’t dither. He plugged the well, ate humblest of pies up on Capitol Hill and despite £47billion in fines and compensation somehow kept BP bouyant. All during a period of record-low oil prices.
If that wasn’t tough enough, it was claimed this week that Dudley was once poisoned by Vladimir Putin’s goons during a particularly hairy period in Russia working for TNK-BP, a joint venture BP entered into with the Russian government. Like I said, this guy carries the wounds of battle.
Not that you’d necessarily know it to look at him. Modest and personable, he has none of the bluster of oil men like Exxon’s Rex Tillerson nor the haughty airs and graces of another predecessor at BP, Lord Browne.
Born on a naval base in New York where his father was a US Navy physicist, Dudley was raised down on the Bayou after Dad took a job at the University of Mississippi.
Long summers were spent swimming and fishing in the Gulf of Mexico, developing an affinity with the area which helped win, if not hearts, then at least a few minds, during the spill.
Keen to see the world, he enrolled at the US Naval Academy in Annapolis until a series of shoulder operations forced him to leave.
Crisis management: Dudley’s appointment as boss of BP in 2010 came amid the Deepwater Horizon disaster, the largest oil spill in history
The energy industry seemed the next best way to travel, so he undertook in a chemical engineering course in Chicago before joining mid-west oil giant Amoco.
His talent didn’t go unnoticed. When BP snapped Amoco up in 1998, Browne was handed a list of its most talented executives. Dudley’s name was at the top.
He moved to London to became one of Browne’s assistants dubbed the ‘Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles’ because, like the cartoon characters, they appeared on the scene whenever needed.
In 2003 he was dispatched to oversee BP’s operations in Russia.
He’d enjoyed working for Amoco in 1994 during Boris Yeltsin’s privatisaion giveaways.
Wife Mary, who he met at college and with whom he has two grown up sons, had become involved in charities helping disabled children while in Russia. But this stint for BP was far less pleasant.
Within five years the TNK-BP arrangement had soured, and Dudley was convinced the Russians were bugging his office. After sustained harassment, he departed in haste in 2008 when his visa wasn’t renewed.
Dudley remained loyal to BP after Hayward took over from Browne. Three years later when the Deepwater blow-out struck, he was informed he would be Hayward’s replacement.
His annual pay has become a bone of contention in recent years. His £14million award in 2015 triggered a shareholder revolt.
This year it stands at £9.5million. A fortune, yes. But after BP’s tumultuous decade, most rival executives still wouldn’t trade places with him. Not for all the oil in the desert.