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Profile: BP's 'invisible' Swedish chairman

Profile: BP's 'invisible' Swedish chairman

Published: 13 Jun 2010 10:52 GMT+02:00
Updated: 13 Jun 2010 10:52 GMT+02:00

When Carl-Henric Svanberg jettisoned telecoms giant Ericsson for British Petroleum last year, he could not in his worst nightmares have forecast the severity of the spotlight in which he now finds himself, writes AFP's Odile Duperry.

BP chairman Carl-Henric Svanberg, who has largely kept a low profile over the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, is now in the limelight, having been summoned to Downing Street and the White House.

Described in the Financial Times newspaper on Saturday as the "hitherto invisible chairman", Svanberg had a telephone conversation with British Prime Minister David Cameron and went to see finance minister George Osborne in Downing Street on Friday.

The day before, he had been invited by the US authorities to see President Barack Obama on Wednesday.

The Swede, 58, could scarcely have imagined such as scenario when he took up the BP chairmanship one year ago.

Having spent 16 years working in the security lock industry, Svanberg took over as chief executive of telecoms firm Ericsson in 2003 and helped turn it into a global giant in the field.

The ice hockey fanatic's efforts led him to be dubbed the "Swedish Richard Branson", after the Virgin boss.

Svanberg was appointed in June 2009 and took over from the flamboyant Peter Sutherland on January 1, 2010. His arrival was well received by analysts, with senior trader and commentator Manoj Ladwa of ETX Capital saying it was a smart move for BP.

Svanberg "has a good track record at Ericsson, reviving the fortunes of a struggling giant. He is a safe hand on the tiller as BP navigates some very stormy waters and rebuilds its operational strength," he said.

His lack of experience in the petroleum sector raised few eyebrows at the time, though his environmental knowledge was flagged up, as he was a member of the Earth Institute of Columbia University in New York.

And at Ericsson, he created a culture of interest in environmental concerns.

He also told The Times newspaper that it was vital for businesses to play a role in protecting the environment, saying: "As citizens of the world I don't think we can just sit back".

But since the Deepwater Horizon oil spill disaster began on April 20, Svanberg has been notable by his low profile. The Independent newspaper on Saturday called him "the invisible man".

Andreas Cervenka, of Sweden's Svenska Dagbladet newspaper, accused him of "ostrich tactics".

Svanberg also ruffled feathers at a conference when he said he was expecting "a smoother ride" at BP.

During the last few weeks, he has emerged from the shadows, starting by explaining that BP chief executive Tony Hayward was first in line, saying "to avoid misunderstandings, we must speak with one clear voice".

He also gave an interview to the Financial Times and took part in an investors' conference where he expressed his support for Hayward.

But the scale of the Deepwater Horizon disaster -- which has gone beyond being simply an environmental issue -- has obliged Svanberg to take his turn on the front line.

After his talks with Osborne at Downing Street, Svanberg was initially reluctant to comment but told broadcaster ITN: "I think we have done everything we can to try to fill the well, and we have said we would do everything expected from us in cleaning up the beach, taking care of all the claims and learn from this incident and make deep-sea drilling an even safer place."

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Your comments about this article

11:23 June 13, 2010 by StockholmSam
Ha ha, he made his bed now he can sleep in it. He chose to go after the money and work for a corporation that rapes the land and pollutes the air. A lack of moral backbone on all sides. Having to shoulder the responsibility for such disasters is one of the reasons he gets the big bucks.
15:48 June 13, 2010 by RoyceD
how about doing everything expected of "us" and then doing a whole lot more? What does this guy earn a year? An insane amount no doubt
19:47 June 13, 2010 by 2394040
When you stop to consider that the world's governments get their marching orders from international big business, it is highly doubtful that this fellow is in any type of trouble. Even if he should lose his job, he will leave with the usual golden handshake. Everyone else will be left to clean up the mess.
00:00 June 14, 2010 by bezjaj
That slick seems a little too greasy now..
10:28 June 14, 2010 by J Jack
@ #1 .. I assume you don't drive or travel on anything that needs oil.
12:27 June 14, 2010 by DAVID T
The oil rig, called Deepwater Horizon, was owned and operated by Transocean a Swiss-based company. Seems like they are looking for a scapegoat
12:59 June 14, 2010 by ooh456
The oil rig is owned and operated buy BP... and having destroyed on our most beautiful oceans, they will either clean up the mess or we will destroy them.
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