But Hayward's defenders point out that while the often tie-less CEO has a noticeably laid-back demeanor, he asserted his commitment to safety long before the Gulf spill. In another past interview, Hayward recalled an incident that killed a young BP employee in Venezuela. Hayward attended his funeral, where he was confronted by the young man's mother.
"At the end of the service his mother came up to me and beat me on the chest," he said. "'Why did you let it happen?' she asked. It changed the way I think about safety. Leaders must make the safety of all who work for them their top priority."
BP's leader for more than three years, Hayward took over the company at an inauspicious time. In 2007, BP was still dealing with the aftermath of a 2005 Texas refinery explosion that killed 15 workers and a 2006 oil spill in Alaska's North Slope, its profits were plunging thanks to weak U.S. gas prices and other problems and its last CEO, the highly-respected John Browne, had resigned amid a salacious scandal: A judge had found Browne lied in court over a long-running gay relationship with a Canadian student.
While he kept mum on the Browne scandal, Hayward was vocal and aggressive in his efforts to turn around BP, both from a financial and safety standpoint. Under his tenure, BP simplified its company structure and slashed thousands of jobs -- moves that BP officials insisted did not compromise BP's increased focus on safety.
"What I learned was that we'd become far too introspective at the top. In particular, we weren't listening to the operating people on safety and reliability," Hayward told a BP company magazine in 2008. His predecessor, he said, built "a fantastic company. ... Our task now is to demonstrate that we can run it."
Hayward almost never got the chance to work for BP, let alone run it.
His beginnings were humble: Hayward was the oldest of seven from Slough, England, a blue-collar town that serves as the setting for the British version of "The Office." After he earned a degree at a midtier college, his initial application to BP was rejected.
A Ph.D. in geology from Edinburgh University prompted BP to take a second look. Hayward joined the company in 1982 at age 25, beginning his career there as a rig geologist in the North Sea, where he helped discover a new oil field.
"Drilling into the reservoir for the first time at 4 a.m. on Christmas morning 1982 (was) one of my better Christmas presents," he recalled in a speech before a Scottish oil club in 2006.
Hayward went on to work in seven different countries -- his daughter, the younger of Hayward's two children, was born in Colombia -- and hold a number of different roles. Browne took notice of Hayward at a 1990 BP conference in Arizona and Hayward soon became part of a group of young, promising executives nicknamed the "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles."
Hayward drew from his geological expertise to help BP expand its oil reserves.
"When Hayward came in, he was felt to be a pretty good guy from the point of view of doing the most important thing that oil companies worry about: trying to find more oil to add to the reserve list," said Paul Hodges, chairman of International eChem, a London-based chemical advisory group.