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BP Replaces Chief Executive Amid Record Losses From Oil Spill

The international oil giant BP has announced record losses for the past quarter and confirmed Tuesday it is replacing its chief executive, Tony Hayward. BP's woes stem from the disastrous oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

BP's losses for the past quarter amount to some $17 billion, due to having to set aside more than $32 billion for costs linked to the oil spill off the U.S. coast in the Gulf of Mexico.

BP's board also confirmed what had been widely predicted in recent days, company's CEO Tony Hayward is stepping aside. Hayward will be replaced by fellow executive Robert Dudley.

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BP Chairman Carl-Henric Svanberg said the decision was by mutual agreement.

"In view of the Macondo well and everything that has happened... it became clear that you needed, in this case, a new face and a new man to lead this," he explained. "And, of course, especially America is our biggest market so that is also important."

Tony Hayward had become the embattled public face of BP and the Gulf oil disaster. He made a few blatant public relations gaffes, such as saying he would like to get his life back, after 11 people had been killed when the drilling rig exploded in April and oil continued to gush into the Gulf.

Many factors may have been to blame for the disaster. But, the focus turned on Hayward, says economic and environmental policy expert Robert Faulkner of the London School of Economics. He says Hayward's departure was inevitable.

"It may not be entirely justified that he was the 'fall guy,' but in the public's eye and in the view of the U.S. Congress and the president, he was the man responsible for this," noted Faulkner. "And as so often in major crises, the top man has to take that responsibility and walk."

Hayward will "walk" on October 1 with a hefty severance package and a pension for his years with the company that will total more than $17 million.

The Gulf oil spill has also hit BP's balance sheet and the company announced it will sell $30 billion in assets during the next 18 months. It is a huge blow for BP says Faulkner.

"It will be a smaller company because of this, and it will have lost a great deal of capital that it needs now to invest in future oil exploration," added Faulkner. "So, BP's phenomenal growth in recent years has been halted, slightly reversed, but the important thing is it has survived so far; it has avoided hostile takeover; it has avoided bankruptcy so far."

It all depends, says Faulkner, on whether the damaged well can be fixed, the spill stopped permanently and how well clean-up operations go.

BP has been stressing its strength and viability globally, but there is little doubt its public image has been hugely damaged in the United States.

Faulkner says rebranding may be needed.

"There are serious doubts about whether BP can retain its logo and its brand name in the way it has," Faulkner explained. "We must remember that BP merged with the American oil company Amoco and dropped the Amoco label in 2001. So it may have to conduct a rebranding in the United States to stay competitive."

The task of rebuilding the company, any rebranding and taking it into the future will fall mainly on American Robert Dudley, the new CEO. Dudley grew up partly in the southern U.S. state of Mississippi, which has been heavily affected by the oil spill. He spent many years at Amoco, before it merged with BP.