BP's bosses: The men at the top

President Barack Obama has said he is looking for a BP "ass to kick" over the devastating Gulf of Mexico oil spillage.

The executives most likely to receive this boot are the chief executive and chairman, two men whose distinguished careers could be defined by the disaster.

Chief Executive: Tony Hayward

BP chief executive Tony Hayward My Hayward has come in for fierce criticism from the US media

When Tony Hayward, 53, became BP's chief executive in 2007 he told journalists that his number-one task was to focus "laser-like" on safety and reliability.

He showed all the energy and excitement one would expect from a man who had climbed to the top of one of the world's biggest companies - and could now stamp his mark on it.

He inherited a company severely tarnished by the deaths of 15 employees at a refinery in Texas and by an oil spillage from a fractured pipeline in Alaska.

But Mr Hayward promised that BP would do things differently, telling the Texas-based Houston Chronicle newspaper: "The task is to restore confidence."

How quickly things change. Then aged 50, but looking much younger, Mr Hayward now wears a drained, slightly haunted expression. The excitement he showed in the early days of his tenure seems absent today.

No wonder, after being declared public enemy No 1 in America.

Mr Hayward has been demonised by the US media as being responsible for the world's worst environmental disaster - and, let's not forget, for the deaths of 11 men in the rig explosion that preceded it.

Critics argue that, as the man in charge, it is Mr Hayward's job to take the heat. Nor has he helped his cause with some misguided remarks about wanting his life back and optimistic comments about the clean-up operation.

But the hostility must be a crushing weight to bear, especially for a man whose declared intention on becoming chief executive was take a lower profile than his predecessor, Lord (John) Browne of Madingley.

By the time he departed Lord Browne had become as well known for his celebrity friends and political connections as for his business successes.

Mr Hayward's appointment was in part a desire by the BP board to get back to basics.

He was seen as a old-school oil man, happier having a beer with rig workers than, like Lord Browne, drinking fine wine with prime ministers and presidents.

Words such as "informal", "quiet" or "easy-going" are often used to describe his manner.

Born in 1957, the eldest of seven children, Mr Hayward gained a first class geology degree from Aston University, in Birmingham, and PhD from Edinburgh University at the age 22.

Married, with two children, Mr Hayward considered going into academia, but instead went to BP in 1982 and was posted first to Aberdeen, home of the UK's North Sea oil boom.

Ninja Turtles

Mr Hayward has spoken frequently of his love of the offshore life and of touring the world in various BP jobs.

But he was eventually talent-spotted by Lord Browne, and became one of his Turtles (a name Browne gave to his inner circle of high fliers) a reference to the fearsome cartoon warriors, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

Mr Hayward rose to become head of exploration and production, a key role in any oil company, and was long identified as Lord Browne's likely successor.

When Lord Browne resigned after having lied to a UK court about his relationship with a male escort, no one was surprised when Mr Hayward took over.

But he had already begun positioning himself, telling a conference some months earlier that BP needed to change its leadership style because it was "too directive and doesn't listen sufficiently well."

Chairman: Carl-Henric Svanberg

Chairman Carl-Henric Svanberg Mr Svanberg is coming under increasing pressure

While Tony Hayward has been made the fall guy by US media for the oil disaster, chairman Carl-Henric Svanberg is increasingly under the spotlight from the UK press.

Several commentators have queried Mr Svanberg's lack of visibility during the crisis, with Financial Times columnist Jonathan Guthrie saying he is "proving lower-profile than an agoraphobic prairie dog".

This may be about to change if reports are correct that Mr Hayward is returning to London, while Mr Svanberg now directs BP's response to the growing political crisis the company is facing in America.

Mr Svanberg's supporters point out that he only became chairman in January, and only joined the BP board five months earlier.

He has no oil industry experience, having most recently spent six years as president and chief executive of Swedish telecoms group Ericsson.

However, while he may not have been able to answer detailed operational questions, critics say a chairman's role is to take the lead in times of crisis, especially in dealings with governments and investors.

Medal winner

When he was appointed chairman Mr Svanberg said last year that he recognised it was a big challenge "following such a distinguished predecessor".

This predecessor was Peter Sutherland, who cut his teeth in Irish politics and at the European Commission, and is unlikely to have been found on the sidelines if the crisis happened during his watch.

There was, at the time, some surprise that BP had gone outside the industry to find Mr Sutherland's replacement. But, then, so did Royal Dutch Shell, BP's bigger rival, when it appointed former Nokia boss Jorma Ollila as its chairman.

Married, with three children, Mr Svanberg, 57, has had a distinguished career.

Born in the Swedish town of Porjus, inside the Arctic Circle, he received a Masters degree in engineering from the Institute of Technology at Linkoping University.

After graduating in 1977, he worked for ABB on various foreign assignments, then moving to security company Securitas.

He led the spin out of Assa Abloy from Securitas in 1994 and, with the help of numerous acquisitions, boosted turnover seven-fold.

A big ice hockey fan and accomplished player in his youth, Mr Svanberg took the top job at Ericsson in 2003, steering a then loss-making company through a big and often painful restructuring.

His reward was to be given the King of Sweden's medal for his contribution to Swedish industry - and to have garnered enough plaudits to make him a contender to chair one of the world's great energy groups.

Ironically, Mr Svanberg's single biggest skill, according to one analyst who has watched his career, is "stewarding companies through difficult times".

There are many observers who think that Mr Svanberg could be putting that skill to better use today.

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