Tuesday, June 15, 2010

A Silent Swede Goes To Washington

There is a Swedish proverb that says "Tala är silver, tiga är guld" (tr. "speech is silver, silence is gold"). Waiting for BP's chairman Carl-Henric Svanberg to adress the BP oil disaster, one could get the impression that we here have a man stuck in his nordic roots, bound by the Law of Jante, or simply unwilling to join the public chatter, prefering to just let the company dig and drill itself out of the mess. But the Swede who has been called to the White House by President Barack Obama is not the silent type.

James Savage, a writer at the English-language Swedish newspaper The Local draws a quick portrait of Carl-Henric Svanberg, who became a BP director in Septemnber and took over as chairman of BP in Janruary 2010:

But in Sweden, where he was CEO of telecom equipment vendor Ericsson, Svanberg has been the country's most high-profile company leader of the past decade. For observers of his career, this makes his handling of the crisis rather puzzling. He is widely viewed as one of the Sweden’s most able business leaders and best communicators. His reputation in the US and the UK for being media-shy and unforthcoming is lightyears away from how he is perceived at home:

“He is very communicative, verbal and charismatic,” says Torbjörn Carlbom, telecoms reporter at Swedish business weekly Veckans Affärer.

“This is why the Swedish media are very puzzled by the way he is coming across in the current crisis at BP.”
Margareta Pagano, a commentator for the British paper The Independent asked in a caustic piece on June 6th How far do we have to drill to find BP's chairman?

Where is Carl-Henric Svanberg hiding? And, more pertinently, why is he hiding? The Swedish chairman of BP is proving every bit as mysterious as one of the characters out of a Stieg Larsson novel, while his chief executive, Tony Hayward, is being crucified by the world's press as the demon destroying America's coastline. Svanberg has made only one public statement since disaster struck just over a month ago in the Gulf of Mexico, throwing both BP and the future of deepwater drilling into jeopardy.
If Carl-Henric Svanberg, who is actually quite comfortable speaking to politicians, is going to survive his upcoming meeting at the White House, he will have to pull out all the stops and convince President Barack Obama and the American public that BP really, really, will do the right thing.

At moments like this, silence is not gold, but outright dangerous.

Hans Sandberg

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