BP Chairman Carl-Henric Svanberg: 'We Care About The Small People'

BP Chairman Carl-Henric Svanberg at the White House
BP Chairman Carl-Henric Svanberg at the White House

BP (BP) Chairman Carl-Henric Svanberg may be a big shot back home in Sweden, but in the U.S., he's about as small as it gets right about now.

In his defense, English isn't his native language, but that's about as charitable as one can be after Svanberg insisted that BP, responsible for the worst environmental disaster in U.S. history, really does care about "the small people."

Minutes after emerging from the White House meeting on Wednesday with President Barack Obama about the massive BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, Svanberg addressed reporters with a message for the American people.

"I hear comments sometimes that large oil companies are really companies that don't care, but that is not the case in BP," Svanberg said. "We care about the small people."

Say What?

Presumably Svanberg -- a Swedish business executive who served as CEO of Ericsson from 2003 to 2009 and joined BP's board in 2009 -- was referring to "the average Joe," "the common man" or "regular folks." But here's a small piece of advice Chairman Svanberg: If you have to try to persuade people that you care about them, chances are they already know you don't.

And after the callous way BP has treated the public -- the lying, the obfuscation, the absurd statements -- people have good reason to distrust the company.

Here's another piece of advice Mr. Svanberg, just for future reference on the PR front. Americans are proud people and generally don't take too kindly to being treated paternalistically.

And one more thing: It's nice that Svanberg cares about "the small people," but what does that make him? One of the "big guys"? A card-carrying member of the globe-trotting cadre of elite international business big shots? Or maybe he's just another 58-year-old quasi-retired millionaire corporate executive with a plumb board chairmanship -- $1 million per annum, natch -- who is violently out of touch with reality.

Skip Mardi Gras Next Year

The reaction to Svanberg's comment was swift and indignant.

Justin Taffinder of New Orleans told the Associated Press: "We're not small people. We're human beings. They're no greater than us. We don't bow down to them. We don't pray to them."

BP spokesman Toby Odone later emailed the AP to clarify Svanberg's remarks. "It is clear that what he means is that he cares about local businesses and local people. This was a slip in translation."

Translating English to English sure can be tricky.