BP chief executive Tony Hayward headed for the exit door last night claiming he had been “demonised and vilified” in the wake of the Gulf of Mexico disaster.
He spoke out as his successor pledged to put the oil giant on the road to recovery as it reeled under a £20.8billion blow from the spill.
BP dived £11billion into the red in the April-June quarter following the Deepwater Horizon tragedy – its first financial loss for 18 years.
Mr Hayward, who will make way in October for US citizen and fellow board member Bob Dudley, said he had no major regrets about leading BP since 2007, adding that his decision to leave was a purely practical one.
He said: “This is a very sad day for me personally. Whether it is fair or unfair is not the point. I became the public face of the disaster and was demonised and vilified.
“BP cannot move on in the US with me as its leader.
“Life isn’t fair – sometimes you step off the pavement and get hit by a bus.”
Mr Dudley, BP’s first chief executive from overseas, said he did not underestimate the task ahead but insisted he company was “financially robust” and had “enviable” assets and staff.
“I believe this combination – allied to clear, strategic direction – will put BP on the road to recovery,” he said.
The huge charge for the oil disaster includes the direct costs of tackling the spill, cleaning up the catastrophe and a £12.9billion compensation fund agreed in June.
But the longer-term fall-out such as fines, penalties and potential legal action will inevitably add to the bill and spread the pain over a number of years.
BP hopes to sell more than 10% of its production assets over the next 18 months, raising up to £19.3billion to beef up its balance sheet to meet the cost of the crisis.
The oil and gas giant’s North Sea business is expected to escape from the disposal largely unscathed.
Meanwhile, Mr Hayward, who has been criticised for a series of PR blunders since the crisis began, leaves with a pay-off of one year’s salary – £1.045million – and an £11million pension pot.
He will remain on the BP board until the end of November and has been put forward as a non-executive director of the firm’s TNK-BP Russian joint venture.
BP’s chairman Carl-Henric Svanberg said the firm was “deeply saddened” to lose Mr Hayward but said the rig explosion – which left 11 workers dead – had been a “watershed incident”.
“It will be a different company going forward, requiring fresh leadership supported by robust governance and a very engaged board,” Mr Svanberg said.
Edinburgh University graduate Mr Hayward joined BP in 1982, starting as a rig geologist in Aberdeen.
He rose quickly through the ranks in a series of technical and commercial roles in BP Exploration in the north-east, London, Glasgow, France and China, and remains fond of the Granite City.
In 2005 he told the Press and Journal that BP would remain in the north-east until the final drop of oil was extracted from the North Sea.
He has been chief executive since 2007. Before the spill he had been credited with reviving the fortunes of the offshore giant but said he would always feel a “deep responsibility” for the disaster.
“The Gulf of Mexico explosion was a terrible tragedy for which – as the man in charge of BP when it happened – I will always feel a deep responsibility, regardless of where blame is ultimately found to lie,” he said.
“BP will be a changed company as a result and it is right that it should embark on its next phase under new leadership.”
Mr Hayward said BP had reached a “significant milestone” after the capping of the spewing well.
BP shares fell 3% yesterday to 406p. Investors are awaiting the completion of relief wells below the seabed which should finally cut off the flow of oil early next month.
BP is a staple holding for UK pension funds, although shareholders have already felt the pain after the firm scrapped dividends for the first time since World War II. They must wait until 2011 to find out when dividend payments will resume.