Staff Reporter

Messages posted by Atlantic Richfield Co. employees in an Internet chat room said it all.

In the days following word that Arco was being acquired by BP Amoco, resulting in at least 2,000 layoffs, opinions ranged from bemusement to bitterness.

"Good Grief, is this the Brits' way of getting back at us for dumping lousy tea into Boston Harbor? Talk about revenge!" said one message.

Another 34-year employee accused Arco leadership of corporate treason.

"CEOs and boards of directors are supposed to lead and use their efforts to promote the well being of employees as well as shareholders," he wrote. "Or is this an old-fashioned concept replaced by the greed of top executives?"

In an age when major acquisitions have become commonplace, few workers expect to be employed at the same company for more than a few years. But Arco was different. All but two members of its executive committee were hired out of college, and it was not unusual for middle managers to have 30 years of uninterrupted service.

"Arco was one of those great places to work," said a recently departed Arco employee, who asked to remain anonymous because his severance package was still being negotiated. "It is sad to see it go. That's a hundred years of history going."

Even Arco CEO Mike Bowlin acknowledged that the deal has soured a lot of Arco workers. "I'm sure over the next few months they will go through some grieving, some anger," he said.

A particular sore point is that Bowlin continued to talk publicly about keeping the company independent, even as he was seeking a buyout from BP Amoco.

Bowlin makes no excuses. In fact, he says he never deceived anyone.

"Every time I have talked to employees, I have said that Arco can remain independent," he said. "But I've also said that I'll do what's best for shareholders." (That includes Bowlin. Under the terms of the deal, he reportedly will walk away with up to $34 million.)

USC business ethics professor Nancy Kurlind maintains that if layoffs and changes in corporate culture are executed poorly, it could disrupt operations at the combined company, in turn hurting stock performance. Already, tensions are running high at Amoco's former headquarters in Chicago, amid allegations that BP is taking a heavy-handed approach to merging the two firms.

If there is any consolation for soon-to-be-jobless Arco employees, it's that they are entering a strong job market. Most of the employees at the L.A. headquarters have skills in areas like accounting, marketing, human resources and legal affairs that could be transferred to other companies or industries. And with severance packages of at least six months' pay, laid-off employees will have plenty of time to look for new jobs.

It will be harder for those whose expertise lies in hunting for oil deposits and drilling oil wells.

"The guy who is a trained geologist and is working in Alaska or in Bakersfield is going to be in trouble," said Robert Rollo, president of executive recruiting firm R. Rollo Associates Rollo. "They might think about getting back to school and getting an MBA."

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