As the dust settles on the storm caused by BP’s media-shy chairman Carl-Henric Svanberg and his comments about the “small people” of the Gulf of Mexico, those wanting to cut Svanberg some slack having been attempting to figure out exactly what he meant. No doubt that Svanberg’s choice of words, whether intentional or not, has had a damning impact on the firm’s profile and has left residents in the region reeling.


1) The BP press office said he meant to say “small businesses” and that it wasn’t possible that he meant it the way it came out. It is possible that Svanberg could have been referring to small businesses in the area, which includes fishermen, shrimpers and tourism operators, which have seen revenues wiped out by the Gulf spill.

Man on the Street

2) Lotta Hellstrand, a translator from Gothenburg said Svanberg could have meant “the man on the street” when he referred to “small people” in his comments about the oil spill.

A combination of both

3) Deborah Franko, also a Swedish translator, came up with two alternatives for the term when she translated it back into Svanberg’s mother tongue. She said that it could mean either “the man on the street” or “small business”.

“And we care about the small people. I hear comments sometimes that large oil companies are greedy companies or don’t care. But that is not the case in BP. We care about the small people.”
Carl-Henric Svanberg , BP Chairman


Mayor of Orange Beach, Alabama
“He can call me small, he can call me a midget, he can call me a tiny dancer, he can call me anything he wants. Just write the cheque and put it in my pocket.”

President of St Bernard Parish government
“If he [Svanberg] meant he wants to be in touch with grassroots individuals, that’s fine. But that’s not easy for the head of a big international company.”

Mayor of Biloxi, Mississippi
“I make boo-boos like that all the time. This man has a lot of pressure on him, for sure. Talking to the President of the United States is a big deal. What he said was just a slip of the tongue, we know what he meant to say and we don’t take it badly here.”