After more than three months of failed attempts to stop the oil leak that has as many as 4.5 million barrels of crude into the Gulf Coast, BP appears to be as close as it has come to finally stopping the flow -- with a new, tighter-fitting cap. It still may take days to determine if the latest fix will actually work.
But even if BP is able to stop the leak after more than 80 days, the damage -- to the environment, the Gulf Coast economy, and BP's tattered reputation -- has already been done. The embattled company has faced criticism from the media, politicians and the American people almost since day one, for discarding safety measures that led to the April 20 explosion on the Deepwater Horizon, for concealing video and other information about the spill, and for running roughshod over Gulf Coast citizens and business owners. Purely from a public-relations standpoint, BP has virtually been a case study in what not to do. CEO Tony Hayward's early pleas, that he would "like my life back," will be taught in crisis-management courses for years to come.
One fact is irrefutable -- the spill is the worst environmental disaster in U.S. history, and BP is squarely responsible. The $20 billion compensation fund brokered by President Obama helped appease some of the company's critics, and will hopefully provide a lifeline to businesses affected by the spill, but the reality is that BP faces ongoing consumer backlash, outrage along the Gulf Coast and investors who are already circling the company like vultures. The company's fate, at this point, remains unknown.
It's hard to find a lot of BP defenders these days, but we wanted to take an objective look at how the company can help clean up its mess -- literally and figuratively. We asked our Board of Directors to weigh in on the disaster, and to offer their advice to the management of BP.
Warren BrownFounder, CakeLove and Love Cafe
"Pump more money into non-petrol based fuels and PR the heck out of it. Stop the flow and demonstrate a much better commitment to safety. Then, compel the world to join you by taking the lead in non-petrol energy development. Don't pave over the negative images of the spill. Instead, cite it as your inspiration to forge ahead with renewable energy. Use your expertise and make it your mission to remove/reduce the potential for more disasters like the one you're responsible for."
Lawrence GelburdLecturer, The Wharton School
"The Rock 'n' Roll Professor"
"Get in front of the media by releasing all relevant data on a continuous basis, have daily briefings, publicly ask for assistance from the worldwide underwater-engineering community, commit to sharing all data and observations with other relevant parties including competitors on a reciprocal basis, extend their contributions, as a percentage of profit or sales, to a compensatory fund for affected parties. Meet with the families of those physically and financially harmed by the spill."
Lexy FunkCo-Founder And CEO, Brooklyn Industries
"BP should own up to their mistakes, and not hide behind a CEO who says that he was not aware of decisions made during his tenure. When the top executive states that he does not know what takes place under his watch, it undermines the company's credibility. He should be let go and replaced by someone who does know."
Gary WhitehillFounder, The Relentless Foundation And New York Entrepreneur Week
"BP should stop their continued attempts to sensor the media and fully own up to the entire fiasco. Next, promise 100 percent reimbursement for ALL costs, not just financial. Frustratingly, stakeholders continue to talk only about the simple data-driven and unemotional cost of this tragedy -- money lost in the region. That's less than half the story.
"Instead, and more importantly, BP should directly address the emotional toll this tragedy has taken on the personal lives of tens of thousands of Americans, small-business owners and the wildlife ecosystem. BP would be well-served financing various initiatives that address the emotional complexities of this disaster, such as advocacy programs, counseling, habitat restoration and the formation of a non-profit oversight committee for the oil industry."
Steve StraussColumnist And Author Of The Small Business Bible
"The Mr. AllBiz"
"BP is missing a huge opportunity. They could use a method I call "Business Jujitsu," whereby you take a negative and turn it to your benefit. Recall when Tylenol was laced with cyanide a generation ago. Instead of filibustering, the makers of Tylenol proactively took it off the shelf and invented tamper-proof packaging. In the process, it became a more trusted product than ever. That is what BP could do -- become the company that learned its lesson and becomes the most safety and environmentally conscious company around. It would be incredible for them. Do I expect it to happen? No, but we can dream."
Clint GreenleafFounder And CEO, Greenleaf Book Group
"BP has really screwed this up, and it's going to be hard to put a good face on it now that CEO Tony Hayward has left such a bad taste in everyone's mouth. I think the best plan would be to find a charismatic PR person to be the face of BP (and get Tony the Hell away from the cameras) and stop playing defense. They're already on the hook legally, so listening to lawyers suggesting that they shouldn't admit to anything is just stupid. They need a 100 percent sincere apology, they need to pay claims, and they need to hope they can stop the leaking ASAP. As for fixing it, I think that ship has set sail. I bet we won't see BP as a consumer brand in a year or two -- whether because they get bought out or they try to do a corporate name change."
Phil TownInvestor And Author Of Rule #1 And Payback Time
"1) Remember the golden rule: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. 2) Ignore the politicians. They can't help grandstanding but pandering to them will get you nothing but heartache. 3) Next time, remember Murphy's Law: If it can go wrong, it will.
"As an investor, I bought BP at $27. Here's my rationale: The value of BP is either up around $70-$100 if they aren't going to go bankrupt, or $0 is they are going to go bankrupt. Either way, it isn't $27. I don't think there is a chance they'll go down given the limits of liability. And it's in no one's best interest that they do. Exxon, Chevron and PetroChina are nudging at unfriendly takeovers at this price point, so I'm not alone. And I think BP will come out of this a better company for it. I'm in."
Julie JumonvilleCo-Founder And Chief Innovation Officer, UpSpring Baby
"The Mad Scientist"
"My advice is for the competitors of BP. My guess is that one of BP's competitors has a good idea of how to fix the oil spill, and instead of offering help or a solution, they are keeping it to themselves for competitive advantage and the potential to scoop up the assets that BP will be divesting sooner rather than later. If a competitor stepped up and offered to help BP because it is the right thing to do, then they ultimately will be the company that will win financially, socially and will have loyal customers forever."
Rob AdamsDirector, Texas Venture Labs at the University of Texas
"I think BP is toast -- the company will be out of business in a matter of years. Nothing fast, but they will never recover. I think the best reaction is to jump 'all in' to fixing the problem, accommodating the economic losses and by doing this seeing if there's a chance of survival."
Jennifer HillStartup Advisory And Venture Lawyer, Gunderson Dettmer LLP
"Get out in front of the problem -- it's steamrolling you. Be a proactive leader spearheading the solution, instead of responding reactively! It currently appears as though unless President Obama pressures BP, the company is prepared to take the least amount of action.
"Then, find a solution and also plug the other leak -- in BP's processes, operations, strategy, decision making and value system that enabled this disaster. Act honorably in compensating the individuals and businesses whose lives and livelihoods are and will continue to be affected. Be a leader in the economic redevelopment of this area so that you are not just remembered for the destruction of the environment and the livelihoods of millions of people. Set an example of corporate responsibility: provide job retraining, employment options, fair claims compensation and services that rebuild, rehabilitate and rejuvenate not only the environment but the people."
The original version of this article appeared on AOL Small Business on 7/13/10.