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BP chairman says firm cares about 'the small people' [Updated]

Updated 8:49 p.m.
He may not be a native English speaker, but that hasn't stopped the Twitterverse from marveling over the Swedish BP chairman's extraordinary locution Wednesday after a lengthy White House meeting.

"We care about the small people," BP Board Chairman Carl-Henric Svanberg said after meeting President Obama, birthing a phrase destined to be memorialized on T-shirts.

Obama "is frustrated because he cares about the small people. And we care about the small people," Svanburg said. "I hear comments sometimes that large oil companies are really companies that don't care, but that is not the case in BP. We care about the small people."

BP spokesman Toby Odone explained the comment to The Associated Press, saying "what he means is that he cares about local businesses and local people. This was a slip in translation."

BP released a statement from Svanberg on Wednesday night, in which the chairman said, "I spoke clumsily this afternoon, and for that, I am very sorry.

"What I was trying to say -- that BP understands how deeply this affects the lives of people who live along the Gulf and depend on it for their livelihood -- will best be conveyed not by any words but by the work we do to put things right for the families and businesses who've been hurt. Like President Obama, I believe we made some good progress toward that goal today," Svanberg concluded.

Read The Post's full story on the meeting here»

By Garance Franke-Ruta  |  June 16, 2010; 3:09 PM ET
Categories:  44 The Obama Presidency  
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Comments

''Small people'' got no reason
''Small people'' got no reason
''Small people'' got no reason
To want big answers from Carl-Henree
Or even small answers from big Bee-Pee

They got small hands
Small eyes
They walk around
Tellin' small kinds of lies
They got small noses
And small small teeth
They wear oil-stained shoes
On their oil-soaked feet

Well, I don't want no ''Small people''
Don't want no ''Small people''
Don't want no ''Small people''
`Round here on my drillin' rig

''Small people'' got nobody
''Small people'' got nobody
''Small people'' got nobody
to hear their pleas at BP - (please!)

They got little small legs
That stand so low
On the oil-soaked beach
Oh what they don't know!
They got small minds
That go ''BP BP BP''
They got small voices
Goin' 'BP BP BP''
They got small oily fingers
And small oily minds
They're gonna get you every time

Well, I don't want no small people
Don't want no ''Small people''
Don't want no ''Small people''
'Round here on my drillin' rig....

Posted by: 7788 | June 17, 2010 8:05 AM | Report abuse

wilder5121 | June 17, 2010 12:30 AM:
"Twenty billion dollars for a few dead sea gulls and some oil on a few beaches.
Big deal.
New Orleans was already dead any way.
BP did nothing wrong.
It's government that's the problem.
They should pay.
Call your Senators and demand that Obama stop punishing BP.
No More Socialism."
==
The lack of logic in the above comment is astounding.
The minute all those people who stand to lose their homes and livelihoods would hit the unemployment rolls, talk about screaming "socialism"!
Idiocy.
Rank, unremitting idiocy.
This fool must be banned from any voting poll.
He has no concept of which he speaks.

Posted by: Judy-in-TX | June 17, 2010 1:00 AM | Report abuse

The lack of grace exhibited on this comment string should be humiliating to those of us who see that America is not the only country nor the most civilized in the current-known world.
I knew immediately what Mr. Svanberg said and those to whom he was referring because my husband and I both have relatives in Louisiana who fit that category.
We are ordinary people who populate America; we don't carry airs of being superior to others.
And we are concerned for our fishermen, our farmers, our oystermen, our restaurant workers, etc., who will look up and find themselves without a job or, if they are self-employed in a generational business, face financial ruin because of the spill and the resulting death of the tourist season.
That's not to say we trust the company.
As I told a friend today who owns his own small business repairing my car, the arrogance and lack of responsibility appears to center in BP/America, just as it does in Toyota/America, which also steadfastly has denied it has any functional problem with unintended acceleration and cannot announce that they have "fixed" the problem.
The very top of the food chains in these multi-national companies seem to be much more responsive to the pressures of their respective problems than do their American representatvies.
In both cases, we see arrogance in their American divisions.
I credit such arrogance to the American business climate.
The Chairman of the Board heard several days ago BP's home country prime minister give total support to President Obama and the U.S. government in their efforts to get BP to take care of the damage.
As the British P.M. said to Parliament, switch the positions.
Suppose an American company acted so irresponsibly and despoiled the British shorelines.
Britain would be all over that American company in an instant; he said he completely understood the American efforts and that British retirees would have to face facts.
So when the C/B Svenburg announced that no dividend would be paid this year, I was pleased to hear that bit of news.
Noise over his comment is a small bit of media chaff on what is a very serious day of decision and we need to drop it and not allow ourselves to be sidelined from the compelling issues.

Posted by: Judy-in-TX | June 17, 2010 12:53 AM | Report abuse

much ado about nothing.

English is not his primary language. Give him points for standing up before the pack of reporters and attempting to communicate he and his company's postion.

Stop wasting time and energy creating more crisis where none truly exists.

Posted by: bobfbell | June 17, 2010 12:49 AM | Report abuse

This has got to be one of the more prejudicial reactions I've seen. No one is offended by "small business", meaning low net worth business. So it is natural for a foreigner to think "small people" means a similar thing. No insult was intended. Worry about the leak, not demonizing BP.

Posted by: Sternlight | June 17, 2010 12:44 AM | Report abuse

All the rocket scientists here who are pillorying Svanberg's English skills would have a little bit more credibility if they wrote their comments in Swedish.

For Pete's sake: the guy did great for being an obviously non-native speaker.

Posted by: kcx7 | June 17, 2010 12:43 AM | Report abuse

Twnety billion dollars for a few dead sea gulls and some oil on a few beaches. Big deal. New Orkeans was already dead any way. BP did nothing wrong. It's government that's the problem. They should pay. Call your Senators and demand that Obama stop punishing BP. No More Socialism.

Posted by: wilder5121 | June 17, 2010 12:30 AM | Report abuse

Sorry, no excuses for language incompetence. No forgiveness for a pittance of a down-payment on the actual economic costs. No forgiveness for us for laughing at and hating Jimmy Carter for warning of this 33 years ago.

NO TOLERANCE FOR THE TALKING HEADS WHO CONTINUE TO CRITICIZE THIS ADMINISTRATION FOR PUTTING THE MOST COMPETENT PEOPLE AVAILABLE ON A PROBLEM THAT THEY SHOULD NEVER HAVE FACED, BARRING PRIOR ADMINISTRATIVE INCOMPETENCE AND RECENT CORPORATE MALFEASANCE!!!!!

Maybe we should just shut up and figure how we can make oil-gluttony a distance bad memory.

Posted by: fr3dmars | June 16, 2010 11:55 PM | Report abuse

I am Swedish and would easily make same mistake as Svanberg did. In Sweden we often talk about "den lilla människan" this translates to "the small human" in direct translation. However this is not insulting at all but is used as a tender name that express a humans vulerability to circumstances and events beyond their control. So, in this case it means the individual is small in the sense that when an ocean is suddenly filled with oil, one person can not do much by him or herself.

Posted by: kentnilsson8 | June 16, 2010 11:54 PM | Report abuse


The Svanberg guy should be tarred and feathered, by the "small people." As there is a lot of the stuff in the Mexico Gulf all the big brass and moghuls in BP and the other oil majors should be treated similarily.

They add destruction of habitat to a cold freezing cynism. Tar the friging velture and kick him out of town.

Posted by: foxblues | June 16, 2010 11:47 PM | Report abuse


The Svanberg guy should be tarred and feathered, by the "small people." As there is a lot of the stuff in the Mexico Gulf all the big brass andmoghuls in BP and the other oil majors should be terated similarily.

They add destruction of habitat to a cold freezing cynism. Tar the friging velture and kick him out of town.

Posted by: foxblues | June 16, 2010 11:46 PM | Report abuse


So when Barry the incompetent boob Obama talks about "going to bat for the little guy" Barry is being just as offensive. Hmm?

Posted by: screwjob16 | June 16, 2010 11:27 PM | Report abuse

Since BP is a UK corporation it is highly likely their board meetings are conducted in English and at BP, Svanberg's oral and written communication is in English.

All of the baggers should be incensed. What happened to American exceptionalism? The Don't Tread on Me flag was directed at royalty. Chin up, for all practical purposes he just called Americans peasants or commoners.

Posted by: chucko2 | June 16, 2010 11:24 PM | Report abuse

Is this guy a Dem? His opinion of the people who live in flyover country is the same as the Dems.

Posted by: waterfrontproperty | June 16, 2010 11:23 PM | Report abuse

The "small" people comment is common in the mega corporate world, oil, finance or otherwise.

Years ago ($50.00 bbl. oil days in '81) while on a Lear with a group of oil execs on the way to Vegas one of the passengers looked out the window and said " wonder what the po' folk are doing tonight?"

Nothing has changed and this spill won't change anything for the smalls, just like wall street skated on what they perpetrated. Our government is owned by these oligopolies and there is no Teddy Roosevelt available to fight the S.O.B.'s
on behalf of the smalls.

Posted by: wesatch | June 16, 2010 10:23 PM | Report abuse

The "small" people comment is common in the mega corporate world, oil, finance or otherwise.

Years ago ($50.00 bbl. oil days in '81) while on a Lear with a group of oil execs on the way to Vegas one of the passengers looked out the window and said " wonder what the po' folk are doing tonight?"

Nothing has changed and this spill won't change anything for the smalls, just like wall street skated on what they perpetrated. Our government is owned by these oligopolies and there is no Teddy Roosevelt available to fight the S.O.B.'s
on behalf of the smalls.

Posted by: wesatch | June 16, 2010 10:22 PM | Report abuse

Mr. Svanberg may only use English as a third, or, fourth language, but, surely there are small people in his PR department that use English as a first.

Also, 20b will last about two years, then what?

Posted by: hadenuff1 | June 16, 2010 10:16 PM | Report abuse

Please, let us give a break to a man whose corporation just wrote a $20 billion check to pay for the cleanup. English is likely his third language behind Swedish and German. His remorse is genuine and he cannot be expected to know American idiom.

Posted by: crunkcar | June 16, 2010 10:04 PM | Report abuse

He didn't hurt my feelings and I am from the Gulf Coast. Been called a lot worse.

Posted by: Sealanie | June 16, 2010 9:55 PM | Report abuse

Give the guy a break. If you are a non-english speaking person, you usually try to translate your thoughts in your language to English. That is what happened here. He did not mean to insult anyone.

On an unrelated note, When Union Carbide killed 4500 people and disabled over 300,000 people in 1984 gas leak in India, they walked away after paying just 540 million dollars. All of the stock holders of Union Carbide (most of them are us Americans) did not say cut the dividend. So I guess we have a double standard.

Posted by: jlucas001 | June 16, 2010 9:41 PM | Report abuse

Give the guy a break. If you are a non-english speaking person, you usually try to translate your thoughts in your language to English. That is what happened here. He did not mean to insult anyone.

On an unrelated note, When Union Carbide killed 4500 people and disabled over 300,000 people in 1984 gas leak in India, they walked away after paying just 540 million dollars. All of the stock holders of Union Carbide (most of them are us Americans) did not say cut the dividend. So I guess we have a double standard.

Posted by: jlucas001 | June 16, 2010 9:41 PM | Report abuse

This is very small print.

Posted by: SusanMarie2 | June 16, 2010 9:40 PM | Report abuse

Man people really are sensitive these days. Sorry but in the eyes of these millionaire corporate executives, people who depend on the Gulf to make a living are small potatoes. Sometimes the truth hurts, but a national outrage against this poor choice of words really wont help the matter any.

Posted by: driddy | June 16, 2010 9:39 PM | Report abuse

I would like to know if this phrase, "the small people" is used very often in Swedish/Dutch countries or language and if so in what context? Does something get lost in the translation? In any case, all kinds of people, not just "small people" losing in this. There are a lot of wealthy people along the coast also who have to wake up to oil in front of their multi-million dollar condo or house on the water or who own companies, restaurants and hotels or new highrises along the beach who stand to lose a lot.

Posted by: SusanMarie2 | June 16, 2010 9:36 PM | Report abuse

Euro-Worm. The little people are the Brits, French and Germans who are surrendering to the Islamic vermin. Hey Europe! Rein in your Islamic vermin, pay up what you owe. It's a lot. Be not confused by Obama saying this isn't between the Euro-Britts. It IS between the U.S. and Britain and their weenie, wanker CEOs.

We Americans know who the "small people" are. Euros. And especially in this situation, the British. AYou owe US, we don't owe YOU. Our responsibility to you British was paid was paid in blood and death 60 years ago. YOUR debt to the U.S. can NEVER be repaid. Creeps. But your companies must now pay. Britain must pay.

Obama was right. It's war. He's just too stupid to know who the enemy is.

Posted by: JamesChristian | June 16, 2010 8:54 PM | Report abuse

Only republicans will agree with this idiot calling Americans small people. Go to hell you idiot.

Posted by: truth1

--------------------------------

Obviously, a small person with a very small brain.

Posted by: logicprevails | June 16, 2010 8:52 PM | Report abuse

It's about time somebody is thinking about us "small" people, but it's quite sad it had to come from an International Oil Company.

This small person is tired of getting shafted by Republican policies, Wall Street, Big Insurance & Pharma, and Big Oil here in America.

Posted by: lcarter0311 | June 16, 2010 8:49 PM | Report abuse

Only republicans will agree with this idiot calling Americans small people. Go to hell you idiot.

Posted by: truth1 | June 16, 2010 8:45 PM | Report abuse

C'mon, BP may be the most diabolical company in the universe, but the guy wasn't being a jerk. Politicians in America mean the same thing when they speak of "Main Street" (vs. "Wall Street") or the "Working Man" and so on.

Posted by: logicprevails | June 16, 2010 8:34 PM | Report abuse

Wonder who said, "I Can't Suck it Up With a Straw”.

Posted by: NoWeCant | June 16, 2010 8:30 PM | Report abuse

Why does BP care about "small people?" Small people are the perfect size for stuffing into the pipe in the next "junk shot."

Posted by: thrh | June 16, 2010 8:12 PM | Report abuse

BP's chairman looks every bit like a pompous inflated piece of s***.

With a cocky, boarish mouth like his, he should probably should be fitted with kevlar underwear.

Anyway BP, get the hell out of our waters! Stupid foreign conglomerate crap piles.

Posted by: veerle1 | June 16, 2010 8:02 PM | Report abuse

So the complain is now that the execs aren't on par with the snake oil salesman in the WH when it comes to verbal eloquence...sheesh.

===========================================

they didn't have teleprompters telling them what to say

Posted by: charlietuna6661 | June 16, 2010 7:51 PM | Report abuse

So the complain is now that the execs aren't on par with the snake oil salesman in the WH when it comes to verbal eloquence...sheesh.

Posted by: NoWeCant | June 16, 2010 7:41 PM | Report abuse

he mean lilliputian people

Posted by: mimo1 | June 16, 2010 7:34 PM | Report abuse

he meant lilliputian people

Posted by: mimo1 | June 16, 2010 7:33 PM | Report abuse

Obozo met with his BP buddies and afterwards they said they will take care of the "small people."

How does that make you "small people" feel about BP and the deal obozo made for you?

I guess obozo is used to taking care of "small people" with his community organizing experience.

and then off to play golf or basketball. Maybe this is date night and obozo and the wookiee will jet off to New York again using lots of oil to fly Air Force One.

You "small people" will pay for it all, you know.

Posted by: charlietuna6661 | June 16, 2010 7:31 PM | Report abuse

Was it translation or not? Even if he spoke in English it's not his native language and by "small people" he probably meant everyday, working people and small business people and there's no insult in that, which is the bulk of society unless you're Obama who cares only about welfare people who vote for him, not any other people, big or small.
Much more important is the spectacle of Obama summoning BP executives to bow down to him, the way Obama bows down to the Muslim dictators of the Middle East.

Posted by: kypriotis | June 16, 2010 7:27 PM | Report abuse

"BP Chairman says firm cares about 'the small people'"

Everybody knows he was referring to those folks who only make $10 million a year or so, right?

Posted by: RetCombatVet | June 16, 2010 7:13 PM | Report abuse

As if the Little People needed reminding of what PR Mavens really think.

When Churchill called Gandhi a "half naked fakir" it didn't go down so well either.

Posted by: gannon_dick | June 16, 2010 7:07 PM | Report abuse

His accent seemed unusual to me but then I don't know any Dutch/Swedish people even though they own us!

Posted by: SusanMarie2 | June 16, 2010 6:46 PM | Report abuse

Maybe BP learned something from the Japanese. Apologize and Pay your Debt to Society. This is the Initial Path to Redemption.

Let's encourage BP to employ Tens of Thousands of USA workers in Safety Preparation, Prevention, Maintenance Inspection, Oil Cleanup, USA made Oil Platforms, USA Carbon Fiber Drilling Pipelines, making Sand Sifter machines, Laying Boom, Hay, Smart Sponges, manning Barges, Pumps and Separators and other Oil Cleanup Technologies and become the Safest and most Productive Oil Company on the planet.

Posted by: liveride | June 16, 2010 6:28 PM | Report abuse

jordor, that's hilarious!

Posted by: SusanMarie2 | June 16, 2010 6:17 PM | Report abuse

The Fight for the Victims is not over:

Remove BP from Cleanup Operation and hire Private Companies to do it and Bill all Expenses to BP.

1. Require all Oil Companies Proof of Insurance to Drill in USA Waters. Oil Companies must get insurance to prove their Drilling Safety preparation. Let Private 3rd Party Insurance Companies bring the power of Private Industry to help insure safe operations.

2. Order BP or another Company to Bring in Oil Supertankers to suck in the Oil and Post Smaller Skimmer Boats closer to the Shore to get out of their way. Supertankers sit lower in the water than Skimmers. It worked in the Persian Gulf and it can work here!

3. Order Barges to serve as Barrier Walls with Suction Pumps and Separators to Suck the Oil off the water and Dispose of it in Refineries along the coast.

4. Order a Massive Manpower effort with Hazmat Suits and Training to lay Millions of Oil Absorbing Hay Bales and Smart Sponges ( http://www.abtechindustries.com/ ) which Absorb Oil while Repelling Water and Float for easy retrieval, Vacuums to suck up on shore Oil and Sand-Sifting machines, which are capable of cleaning long areas of beach in minutes rather than the hours it takes to do the work by hand.

5. Require Secondary Relief Wells for all Current and Future Deep Sea Drilling.

Maybe BP learned something from the Japanese. Apologize and Pay your Debt to Society. Let's encourage them to become the Safest and most Productive Oil Company on the planet.

Posted by: liveride | June 16, 2010 6:16 PM | Report abuse

Hero of "the little people"...

OBAMA-MAN CONQUERS BP, EARNS CHANCE OF CRISIS REDEMPTION


Barack Obama became Obama-man today, a sudden superhero who fought off corporate Kryptonite to vanquish a geopolitical enemy of the state.

FOR THE FULL STORY:

http://nowpublic.com/world/obama-man-conquers-bp-earns-chance-crisis-redemption OR Facebook -- Vic Livingston ("Notes")

Posted by: scrivener50 | June 16, 2010 6:14 PM | Report abuse

As one munchkin said to the other, We prefer the term "Little People" LOL!

BP can kiss my small @ss.

Posted by: PepperDr | June 16, 2010 6:07 PM | Report abuse

What condescending tripe!

Greedy manipulative fat cat Etonites cut corners to fatten their wallets ruining a way of life far bigger and older than there pitiful corporation.

Good people and bad, but REAL people, not SMALL people, have been been banned from the waters that are their life-blood by criminal negligence. The effects are being felt in every corner of the country. (I WANT my Gulf shrimps!!!! So do my favorite restaurants!)

It seems that a big chunk of our economic crisis was caused by allowing people to buy real estate on down payments as paltry as their $20B escrow.

Let the prosecutions begin - yeah, just like the fraudulent lender/packagers who ruined the world economy, who've yet to be touched.

Posted by: fr3dmars | June 16, 2010 6:06 PM | Report abuse

"BP Chairman says firm cares about 'the small people'"

Oh, PUH-LEEZ. This from the man who just wants his life back. BP cares about the "small people" (read, peasantry) about as much as they care about the untold damage they're doing to the ecosystem.

Give me a break.

Posted by: nicekid | June 16, 2010 5:55 PM | Report abuse

I've been to Louisiana and there were very few small people there. Many were very large indeed. I favor cutting the guy some slack.

Posted by: maklv | June 16, 2010 5:23 PM | Report abuse

Being born in Sweden I can reveal that Swedish has a similar expression (although "little man" would perhaps be a better translation), Mr Svanberg probably did a too direct translation of that. In Swedish "little man" is in no way derogatory, but rather describes a "normal" hard working man (or woman), as opposed to for example "Fat Cats". (Compare for example "grassroots movement", which would probably sound very demeaning in a lot of languages).

/Peace

Posted by: TelJ | June 16, 2010 5:21 PM | Report abuse

For me, I prefer to be refered to as ordinary or regular. Even now.

Posted by: jralger | June 16, 2010 5:16 PM | Report abuse

Alan Jackson has a song entitled 'Little Man' on his Greatest Hits II album. Maybe the critics should pan him for referring to the little man. The song describes the meaning of the term and it could apply to many folks along the Gulf Coast and elsewhere - maybe it applies to the majority of us.

Posted by: texas234 | June 16, 2010 5:01 PM | Report abuse

I think we who speak English as a first language expect the whole world to understand our dialects, slangs, metaphors, tonal expressions, etc., etc. I have seen this mistake made by our presidents when speaking in foreign countries. I seem to remember President Bush the 1st making a mistake in Japan when speaking. Anyhow, I stand by my opinion that the man wasn't being derogatory.

Posted by: jordor | June 16, 2010 4:37 PM | Report abuse

Obligatory Randy Newman comment.

Posted by: jmdziuban1 | June 16, 2010 4:36 PM | Report abuse

Now maybe all you blue collar republican's, those that think "W" would like to have beer and change a flat tire with them, will understand what the supper wealthy think of them. But wait, their small (minded) people so probably not.

Posted by: frluke | June 16, 2010 4:28 PM | Report abuse

If this were the Niger delta instead of the Mississippi delta does anyone really believe there would be the same "caring" or funding?

Posted by: chucko2 | June 16, 2010 4:21 PM | Report abuse

Actually I believe he meant exactly what he said and it was derogatory. No adjective was required. He simply could have referred to "the people" or "the people on the gulf coast". Instead he specifically used the word small and it is an insult.

Posted by: chucko2 | June 16, 2010 4:15 PM | Report abuse

LOL. It is true, however, that the mean height of Americans has been decreasing. So, coming from a tall Swede, the statement has a ring of truth about it.

Posted by: eugene8 | June 16, 2010 3:58 PM | Report abuse

It unbelievable that some are making an issue out of the man using the term "small people" in his comments. I understood very clear what he meant, and it had nothing to do with him looking down his nose. Imagine the outcry if he had said "joe six-pack".

Posted by: jordor | June 16, 2010 3:58 PM | Report abuse

Man all you have to do is in the future learn by your mistakes and be prepared for the worst so that if there is a future leak you will be able to stop it that means drilling 4 original holes 2 from the same platform only tyhe extraction oil hole will have to be smaller than the #2 hole the #2 hole will be used if the well has to be sealed the #2 hole will be approx 3 to 4 times in diameter larger than the oil extraction hole and used to blow styrofoam balls that are larger than the oil extraction hole with air pressure and a mixture of fast dry sealer cement like a radiator stop leak type patch and the presure will be relieved by the second emergency platform with the other same 2 holes setup. If the need arises the solution is all ready there to stop the leak and the presure can be relieved by useing the second hole for oil extraction while the other hole is sealed off.

Posted by: luckyfreeman69 | June 16, 2010 3:57 PM | Report abuse

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