BP is a case in point. Just months ago BP had once again earned its customary spot on the Fortune magazine list of the World’s Most Admired Companies, ranking respectably among such other petroleum exploration giants as Exxon, Shell and Chevron.
Of the nine criteria that Fortune covers in its annual survey, BP scored highest in “Social Responsibility.” You can insert your own punch line here.
Fast forward and BP is the foremost villain in an authentic tragedy that so far has few heroes. There are other bad guys, too. But BP is unlikely to relinquish its position as polluter in chief, rightly ordained to bear the brunt of responsibility for what is surely one of the worst manmade environmental disasters in human history.
Sadly, it may take decades or perhaps a lifetime for the Gulf to fully recover. It may take longer for BP’s business to rebound and longer still for the company to repair its besotted image. If that’s even possible. The company’s public relations missteps are already legendary. Company execs show even less talent for recovering their reputation than for recovering our oil.
The beaches of history are littered with the bleached bones of reputations never recovered.
- The magnitude of the Gulf spill is measured in Exxon Valdezes, reminding us daily of that company’s 1989 incident.
- The airline ValuJet decided to change its names rather than try to repair its wrecked image.
- The Union Carbide pesticide plant disaster at Bhopal still haunts after a quarter century and Union Carbide is no more.
- And we could talk for hours about homerun kings, Heisman winners and golf legends forever (or at least currently) more associated with crimes and misbehaviors than their exploits on the field of play.
Who knows if BP will suffer a similar fate? Not me.
But I will share this little parable, for what it’s worth. About 30 years ago I was driving my son home from a Little League game. No doubt we were engrossed in reliving his performance or perhaps I was giving advice about the elegance of a nice level swing.
That’s when I hit the duck. Who knows why it tried to cross the road? Maybe it darted in front of me. Maybe it failed to signal. Regardless, I ran over a duck. There was a noticeable bump. Andy looked at me with horror. We watched the duck hobble toward the park. I don’t know if it survived.
I think of that duck often, because Andy will never let me forget it. Never. He tells the story often, usually pantomiming the poor creature’s limping gait. Three decades and I’m still trying to live down the fact that I (possibly) killed one duck. BP has its work cut out for it.