Saturday, June 5, 2010

One Tough Question

"What would you do if you were on the BP board?"

How about that for a tough question? Well, that's the question that was put to one of the most respected corporate chieftains in the country at a meeting of directors this past week.

This was a closed-door, off-the-record session, so I respect the confidentiality considerations of this gathering of board leaders. But I think it is okay to share, without naming names, what this top executive had to say in response to the question.

One, he says he would have asked, "What are we doing drilling in 5,000 feet of water?" — challenging management on why there, so deeply underwater in the Gulf, when there are far easier, more accessible places for the company to be drilling in the world today. Presumably that would have been a question put fast and hard to management long before the first piercing of the Gulf seabed (pictured is BP CEO Tony Hayward).

Then, said this board leader, who knows well his way around troubled situations, the only real thing the BP board can do at this moment is acknowledge that "We take responsibility, and we will do all we can to fix the problem." If I am not mistaken, he said this with a rueful sigh and a sad shrug of the shoulders, as if the question indeed placed him right inside the BP boardroom.

I looked around the room at the faces of the other corporate directors, and I didn't see one who looked like he or she had a different answer to offer. Perhaps all were channeling their BP board compatriots and thinking, "There but for the grace of God. . . ."