HEAD IN THE SAND APPROACH OF CEO’S: DEAL WITH PROBLEMS

Posted in analyze the problem, BBC, Business Crises We Create, Business Crisis Management, Corporate Crisis Management, Crisis Management, dealing head-on with a crisis, don't white wash the crisis, fix the problem, head in the sand approach, HSBC Compliance failures, not duck them, Poor crisis management, The DOJ and executives who try to avoid crises, the effect of ignoring a problem, Throw an employee under the bus on January 6th, 2013 by mnayor

The head in the sand approach to solving problems is not uncommon in everyday life. The concept of not getting involved has become more rapidly adopted by our citizenry. People readily subscribe to the maxim: The less involved you are the better off you are. It is also not uncommon in business situations, including at the very top positions. More and more CEO’s and other executives wish to insulate themselves and not sully their hands with messy issues, instead of solving them which is what they are paid to do.

 

When an organization’s leadership wishes to maintain clean  hands instead of confronting crises, the can is kicked down the road or left to those who do not have the authority, knowledge, or responsibility to handle. The result is often a rudderless ship, compounded problems for the organization, and a CEO who either throws other people under the bus or is made to resign leaving a bleeding hulk of a company.

 

Take the case of the British Broadcasting Corporation. For many years a popular, long-time host at BBC, Jimmy Savile, was suspected of sexually abusing young people, sometimes even at the premises of the BBC. The company recently came under blistering attack when it was learned that an investigation of Savile had been cancelled by the editor of BBC’s Newsnight program last year. Newsnight is an important current affairs program of the BBC. Mark Thompson, the BBC’s Director General until a few months ago claims to have had no knowledge of the accusations against Savile although there were many opportunities to delve into the matter if he chose to do so.

 

Another recent example is Stephen Green, now Lord Green. Lord Green became chief executive of HSBC in June 2003 and was appointed chairman in 2006. In December of 2012 HSBC entered into a Deferred Prosecution Agreement with the Department of Justice (DOJ), criminal money laundering activities and agreeing to pay fines and penalties totaling $1.9 billion. According to the Huffington Post, in 2005 Green was also made aware of the bank’s alleged ties with “rogue” regimes in theMiddle East. A US Senate investigation released internal emails showing how in the same year Lord Green was warned by an internal whistleblower in the bank’sMexicosubsidiary that compliance staff had “fabricated records”. He was also told in 2008, two years after being appointed executive chairman, that the Mexican authorities had uncovered evidence of money laundering that “may imply criminal responsibility of HSBC”.

 

Often, top management wishes to be insulated from bad decisions already made, and hard decisions that need to be made, even with the knowledge that, more often than not, the buck stops with them and severe harm can come to the company.

 

A CEO and his/her lieutenants are charged with monitoring the ship as a captain of a vessel or plane would. Rectifying what is wrong is a vital part of the job. Time does not absorb and dissolve bad decisions or situations. It only heightens the culpability of the parties who either made no attempt to rectify, or tried to white-wash them. Recently the DOJ and the SEC jointly released its 120 page Resource Guide to the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) which essentially prohibits and makes criminal the bribery of foreign officials. The Act was first passed in 1977, was amended a couple of times. The Guide explains what the DOJ and the SEC look for when it investigates, including the conduct of company when it learns of violations and the remedial steps which are taken to correct violations.

 

The FCPA states that it shall be unlawful for a company or its officers or directors to offer to pay, pay, promise to pay or authorize the payment of any money, gift or anything of value to foreign officials, or a foreign political party or official thereof, or foreign political candidate including to any person while knowing that all or a portion of such money or thing of value will be offered, given or promised, directly or indirectly to any foreign official, foreign political party or official thereof or foreign political candidate for the purpose of influencing any act or decision of such official, inducing any act in violation of the official’s duty or securing any improper advantage.

 

The Guide states that Congress meant not only “to impose liability on those with actual knowledge of wrongdoing, but also on those who purposefully avoid actual knowledge” and quotes H.R. Conf. Rep. No.100-576, at 920 (1988):

 

[T]he so-called head in the sand problem – variously described in the

pertinent authorities as “conscious disregard”, “willful blindness” or

deliberate ignorance” – should be covered so that management officials

could not take refuge from the Act’s prohibitions by their unwarranted    obliviousness to any action (or inaction), language

or other “signaling devise” that should reasonably alert them of the “high probability” of an

FCPA violation.

 

It is very likely that in the future the DOJ will adopt various theories expounded in the Guide to other criminal prosecutions besides those arising from the FCPA. For example, in December, 2012, in the highly publicized HSBC money laundering case, the DOJ imposed its FCPA risk based guidelines to the bank’s flawed country risk-rating methodology. It is only a matter of time before we see the “head in the sand” approach to management come under significant direct attack.

 

Thus, it is time for boards of directors to insist that top management take full responsibility to right the wrongs of their organizations.  It is incumbent on top management, and lower levels in turn, to clarify lines of responsibility and authority, to define the values of their organizations, to impose clear lines of accountability and to review regularly issues that arise. Confronting and solving problems is a big part of the job. Basking in increased sales, profitability and market share at the expense of ignoring core issues is a dangerous path that has often set back businesses several years and cost, or should have cost some CEO’s their jobs.

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J&J: IT’S ABOUT TIME OR MORE OF THE SAME

Posted in a ggod reputation guarantees long term profits, Business Crises We Create, cheating the public, Corporate Crisis Management, corporate integrity, Crisis Management, Crisis Management Response, Doing the right thing, Ethics and Crisis Management, Hurting customers, J&J, Johnson & Johnson, Respect your customers, Taking Responsibility for actions of an organization or its employees, when the bottom line is more important than your customers, William Weldon on February 22nd, 2012 by mnayor

 In October of 2010 I highlighted many of the difficulties Johnson & Johnson had been going through since the early part of the decade, from tens of millions of dollars to settle claims against its product Ortho Evra, to product recalls including children’s Tylenol and contact lenses. Other telling issues involved a wrongful termination suit by a whistle blower and a resignation by a senior executive whose conscience would not allow him to remain at J&J knowing what he knew about Ortho Evra.

My conclusion was simply that J&J’s management had veered way off course and had sullied the reputation of one ofAmerica’s greatest corporations, one that was known and respected for its integrity and honesty. I ended with an expression of hope that the lessons learned would set management on the right course once again.

 This was not to be. Just this past week the press reported that J&J took a year to recall a version of its artificial hip after the FDA refused in 2009 to approve it because of its high rate of failures. The device was recalled in 2010, and J&J maintained until that time that the device was safe and its own studies refuted the allegations of professionals. J&J continued to market the hip in Europe and other overseas countries until the recall and sold another version of its hip that didn’t need safety approval in theU.S., even though the hip socket cup, which the FDA found to be flawed, was the same in both products.

 It is interesting to track the timeline of most of J&J’s recent woes to the timeline of William C. Weldon’s tenure as chief executive. Whether directly attributable to Weldon’s misfeasance or malfeasance is not the issue. The torrent of missteps, mistakes,  dishonesty, deception and manipulation has occurred on his watch. The least that can be said without pointing a finger directly at him is that he failed miserably to instill a sense of integrity within the company, a sense of integrity that transcends the needs of the short-term bottom line. So many executives foolishly sit at their desks with blinders on. Weldon and his followers allowed a culture to fester within their walls that calls for the good of the company to transcend the good of the public.

 No executive worth his title would allow the disintegration that has taken place at J&J. Thankfully, William Weldon will step down in April of this year although he will remain as chairman. Alex Gorsky will be the new CEO. Has the Board done the Company, its shareholders and the public a major disservice? Gorsky is cut from the same cloth as Weldon. They both cut their teeth in sales and both are sensitive to the bottom line and enhancing it above all else.  Hopefully Gorsky will recognize the need to build trust, and instill honor from which J&J can once again earn the widespread respect of the public. Build it and they will come. With that will come the financial success that Weldon’s crew tried to obtain on the cheap. If Gorsky has not learned from past mistakes, expect more of the same from J&J. We will all be witness to the transformation of a great American company into just another self-serving medical conglomerate that feeds off the public.

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NETFLIX: A GOOD BUSINESS DECISION ON PAPER

Posted in Business Crises We Create, CONSIDER YOUR STAKEHOLDERS, Crisis Communication Failures, Crisis Management Consulting, DECISIONS IN A VACUUM, NETFLIX on September 21st, 2011 by mnayor

You sit around the conference table and throw out ideas. You think outside the box. You think inside and around it. You crunch numbers. The numbers point in a logical direction. You come up with a winning profit strategy that makes sense. You implement the strategy and blow yourself out of the water. Hello Netflix, which recently announced a restructuring that would divide its business into two segments – providing entertainment by mail and by download – at a hefty increase in customer fees.

Business decisions aren’t made in an isolation booth. Stakeholders, stakeholders, stakeholders. Why do businesses always forget some of their stakeholders? The word has become trite; it’s been used so often. Nevertheless the concept just doesn’t seem to sink in for many business executives. Granted, you can’t please all stakeholders all of the time, and certain stakeholder interests may conflict with those of other groups – but the least you can do is be awake.

Stakeholders are any group or even individual(s) whose interests are important to your company and must be served. If a stakeholder interest is not served, it should at least not be harmed especially if harming the stakeholder will harm you. Here are the most common of them: shareholders and/or investors, customers, suppliers, governmental regulatory agencies, employees, the public at large for health and safety issues and finally, even the media. It’s quite a list and of course not everyone can be happy all of the time.

However, management must always try to forecast the effects of its decisions on its stakeholders. What may be an excellent decision on paper may have disastrous results. Enter Netflix. It is difficult to believe that executives of that company gave any heed to the reaction of its customers. And if they did, they wrongly concluded that there would be some grumbling but they could just hunker down and it would blow over.

Blow over? Netflix is facing an angry customer base. Will it face mass defections? Perhaps. Maybe Netflix concluded that it should take the backlash at all once. Perhaps it feels that its new higher prices and a smaller, better quality customer base better suits its model. The risk, however, is that its base will shrink too much and the company’s revenues will decrease dramatically.

What does a company do after it does its homework and knows that a good corporate decision will have adverse consequences for one or more stakeholder groups? It can be a difficult and agonizing decision. One course of dealing, and the one that makes the most sense when considering an elective course of action, is to implement changes in steps. MODERATION is the key. The first benefit is that you can get a handle on reaction. Similar to a test market, you can assess the effects of your action, make adjustments, refine, modify, go to plan B, etc. Secondly, by going slow, you don’t shock the stakeholders who are affected. It’s the difference between giving a stakeholder a rash versus a blow to the solar plexus.

Don’t make decisions with your head in the clouds. Know the effects of your decisions on others, anticipate what the reactions will be and the effects those reactions could have on your company.

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CRISIS MANAGEMENT VERSUS HUBRIS

Posted in Business Crises We Create, Business Crisis Management, Crisis Communication Failures, Crisis Management Services, Crisis Mitigation, David cameron, News of the World, reputation management, RUPERT MURDOCH on July 18th, 2011 by mnayor

Does history merely repeat itself instead of teaching us anything? Based on business news about movers and shakers one could deduce that many corporate executives just don’t get it and never will.

After the debacle of 2008 when many financial CEO’s were caught in the proverbial headlights, you would think that a tough lesson would have been taught – and learned. Instead even Teflon-coated Warren Buffet decided that his power, authority and standing in the world were enough to allow him to initially stonewall the public about his executive Dave Sokol’s purchase of Lubrizol stock. Not to be outdone Rupert Murdoch has raised the bar even higher.

In a scant two weeks his empire, headed by the subtly named The News Corporation, has experienced what many would not wish on their worst corporate rival. After approximately four years of an on-again, off-again Scotland Yard investigation of phone hacking by News of the World tabloid, that paper has folded, Murdoch’s attempt to acquire the remaining interest in British Sky Broadcasting (BSkyB) has been aborted, and a slew of his corporate executives have been arrested, resigned or otherwise had their reputations besmirched. Rebekah Brooks the CEO of News International, the parent of the late News of the World resigned in disgrace, after two attempts at resignation that were not accepted by Murdoch. Also, Les Hinton, publisher of the Wall Street Journal tendered his resignation the same day.

The details of the outlandish accusations are certainly important but how they were handled by Murdoch is equally important and instructive. For a “media” guy, you would think he would know how to handle as big a story as this. Instead, up until yesterday we heard nothing from Murdoch – and then when we did, we heard the hrrumphing of a corporate big-wig instead of the measured pronouncements of a savvy media executive. Last week Murdoch flew to England from the U.S. Very quickly News of the World was closed, after a 168 year life. Yesterday he told a reporter for the Wall Street Journal that the matter was handled “extremely well in every way possible”. He further stated (apparently referring to his upcoming testimony before Parliament’s select committee on culture, media and sport on July 19th at which initially he and his son, James, declined to appear) that he was eager to address things said in Parliament some of which “are total lies”. Finally, he refuted the allegation that he might spin off his newspaper operations into a separate company as “total rubbish”. He did visit the family of Milly Dowler, the thirteen year old who was killed and whose phone was hacked; and extended apologies to the family. This last weekend he placed full page apology ads in British newspapers.

What kind of media executive fails so miserably in handling a business crisis like this? Who leaves a yawning time gap of two weeks before stating anything? If we assume the complete innocence of a CEO, we would then expect that leader to dig for the truth and let the public know immediately. Silence can only foster the impression of knowledge and guilt. An announcement that the matter is being extensively investigated and that such conduct is not tolerated in the organization goes a long way to safeguarding one’s reputation and possibly the organization itself (many pundits found the sudden closure of News of the World suspicious, based on protecting the Murdoch empire from legal liability). There were and may still be ways to staunch the bleeding, but it may now be very difficult to do. Clearly Murdoch did little or nothing immediately. As a result his empire is suffering and will continue to do so, as stakeholders in Britain and worldwide continue to question his tactics and the integrity of his enterprises.

Many people in the newspaper industry who have been interviewed about the phone hacking scandal find it implausible that editors and publishers wouldn’t know about the sources of stories. They must have known about the hacking and therefore it was both a bottom up and top down conspiracy. Rupert Murdoch may have had knowledge and thus the reason for the code of silence to date. It will be interesting to hear his testimony. At all costs he must avoid appearing out of touch with his businesses, imperious because of his power, or delusional that his connections will protect him. From David Cameron on down, the flight to high ground has begun.

Events seem to be gathering speed as this is being written for publication. Rebekah Brooks was arrested and released on bail. The leader of London’s Metropolitan Police Services, or Scotland Yard, Paul Stephenson, and his deputy have stepped down under growing allegations that the respected organization was very cozy with members and agents of the Murdoch empire; and more information is surfacing about David Cameron’s personal relationships and frequent meetings with similar individuals.

As individual reputations begin to crumble, little effort seems to be directed towards salvaging the Murdoch enterprises, some of which are very much worth saving. Placing someone who is untainted in a position of authority would appear to be necessary and Joel Klein would seem to be the man to take charge right now. The businesses must be separated from the personalities and be made to run as business as usual. There is no sense in allowing individuals – any individuals – to drag down an entire business empire. Klein has a good reputation (a lawyer who was head of the New York City School System until he joined Murdoch), and can direct the “clean” Murdoch business units on a steady course until the mess can be sorted out or until it at least simmers down.

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TACO BELL: HELP I’M BEING SUED

Posted in Business Crises We Create, Crisis Communication Response, Liability Communications, Litigation Communications, RETAIL FOOD CHAINS, Taco Bell, What to do when you are sued on February 16th, 2011 by mnayor

Ouch! On January 25th it was reported that Taco Bell had been hit with a class action suit asserting that the company’s claim that it uses seasoned beef or seasoned ground beef in its products is false. Plaintiffs allege that the Company’s beef mixture is only 35% beef with the rest a mixture of oats, soy, maltodrextrin and soy lecithin and water. Monetary damages are not claimed. The plaintiffs want to compel Taco Bell to be honest in its advertising.

After a couple of weeks we have not heard from Taco Bell other than it will “vigorously defend the suit”. No damage control here.

Perhaps the Company feels the public will soon forget all about the suit. And maybe it will. After all, not too many people expect ground fillet mignon in their $1.00 wraps. But then again, not too many people expect adulterated food either. Time will tell whether sales are negatively impacted. So what’s a company to do?

Honesty. It’s a difficult concept to play with sometimes. The public likes your product the way you make it. You actually disclose some information on your website (how many people research product ingredients on a website before purchasing?). No harm has apparently been done (although some of the additives are common allergens).

How about some real facts. Instead of ducking down and waiting for the shots to subside (along with the jokes), why not deal with the issue head on. Research carefully. Analyze your products and make full disclosure. Publicize the nutrition value of each product as well.

Most companies and their attorneys play it very close to the chest when they are being sued. But it is not always necessary to be 100% tight-lipped. The goal of any company in this type of circumstance should be to be as up-front as possible without exposing itself to greater liability. In this instance Taco Bell isn’t even being sued for monetary damages. And as for potential suits in the future, any good laboratory can discover the ingredients in Taco Bell products. There are no secret formulas.

After analysis, the Company should make a determination whether it wants to change its recipes or not. It is conceivable that TB may announce that it is retaining its recipes because of their good nutritional values. It may change the wording of its “beef” content. It may upgrade its recipes (with great fanfare). Or it may just let the marketplace decide and let the chips fall where they may. If it chooses the latter it takes a risk (that may be justified in its mind) but it has not taken advantage of the opportunity to sell itself and burnish its image if it can inform the public about some positive information.

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NICKEL DIMING YOUR REPUTATION TO DEATH

Posted in Airline Industry, Banking Industry, Business Crises of our own making, Business Crises We Create, Business Crisis Management, Crisis Management Consulting, Excessive consumer fees on December 1st, 2010 by mnayor

Whole industries have the ability to shoot themselves in the foot. Two that leap out at America daily are the airline industry and the banking industry. Single handedly, without help from anyone or anything else, they have made themselves the bad boys of American business. Could it be possible that no one in either of these industries has figured out that they were making themselves despised by the public? Could it be possible that no one in either industry can figure out how to be respected once again? The answer: so far, no.

There could not be one intelligent airline executive who believes that nickel-diming the public is a popular move – or even an acceptable move. But acceptability pales compared to the bottom line. If revenues are significantly enhanced, then the bottom line wins out. It’s certainly understandable that financial health is vital. Those who sit around the conference table and come up with the add-ons are most likely rewarded or at least singled out. But are they really doing what’s in the best interests of their companies?

Meals, pillows, blankets, luggage handling, preferred seating, bathroom use. You name it and it’s an additional charge. Who will be the corporate hero who says this is inane. Who will be the one who says we can gain a lot of goodwill by announcing the end of these charges? Who will be the one to say let’s add ten to twenty dollars to the cost of a ticket and be done with it. Let’s announce that we are back to being a full service airline. No food on short flights – OK. Smaller, simpler meals – OK. Not so many pillows and blankets to clutter the floor with – OK. Who will be the brave anti nickel-dimer?

But before you get to the airport for your aggravating trip, you first must go the bank for preliminary aggravation preparation. Use the ATM? Use your debit card and exceed your balance by 63 cents? Have a checking account you hardly use? A monthly service charge for the bank’s use of your money? Significant interest on your credit card balance? Not to worry. We’ve got you coming and going. The household name banks aren’t doing badly, thank you. Except that their success is on your back. Not quite the same as they’ve got your back.

Why rock the boat when revenues are flowing. Good enough question except it is perception and goodwill that suffer. Who is going to be the wunderkind of the banking world who steps up and says it’s time to stop? Let’s get back to being a bank. We’re supposed to lend money. We are supposed to be an important engine of the economy, not a parasite that just gorges on fees at the expense of our customers. Back to lending where we can make the same money by doing what (hopefully) we do best.

Being in an industry that, while competitive, still plays follow-the-leader often results in bad decisions that are followed blindly by the rest of the herd. Herd mentality can be dangerous. Oftentimes it takes advantage of the public. Oftentimes it undermines reputations as well. Alternatively, independent thinking can burnish images and can reap big rewards. Kudos to the big bank or the major airline that announces that it is separateing itself from the other guys.

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THE NEGATIVE PUBLICITY ENIGMA

Posted in Anticipating A Crisis, Business Crises of our own making, Business Crises We Create, Business Crisis Management, Corporate Crisis Management, Crisis Communication Strategy, Crisis Management, Crisis Mitigation, negative publicity on December 1st, 2010 by mnayor

Robert Walker wrote an article recently in the New York Times Magazine section entitled Good News, Bad News, about the negative publicity the GAP received over its attempt to change its iconic logo; and, in general, the fallout or lack thereof that can be expected from negative attacks.

He’s got a point. The old adage that any publicity, negative or positive, is good publicity is certainly not always true. But some forms of negative publicity don’t always do harm. Such is the case with the GAP logo fiasco.

What forms of negative publicity can hurt an organization? Clearly, reports of poor goods and/or services can be harmful. Reports of Johnson & Johnson’s tainted products over the last year have not helped its image. Reports of poor airline service have the effect of customers shopping for alternatives. A hotel devastated by a hurricane or earthquake or a terrorist incident has the same effect.

Stories about poor management will also turn customers off. Look at the banking and investment banking industry. All of these kinds of negative publicity have the effect of creating a crisis, and require skilled crisis management to counter the effects. The crisis management needed has to tackle two fronts: operationally to truly “fix” the problem and crisis communication to inform the public.

But there are other forms of negative publicity that don’t affect products, services or management, such as the GAP logo situation. True, some people were offended or reacted poorly to the proposed change, but what of it? It would take an extraordinarily sensitive GAP shopper or potential GAP shopper to boycott GAP because of this event.

A business crisis is one that effects a company’s reputation or bottom line. Did an unpopular proposed logo change genuinely affect GAP’s reputation? Did it affect the company’s bottom line? I think not. If it did, it was very short-lived and very ineffective. In fact, most stories about the incident stressed the many attributes about the business, its clothing products and its branding success. While GAP would most likely have opted for no publicity over its logo, no harm was done.

The moral of the story? Manage well. Provide excellent products and services. You may still be unable to avoid negative publicity or a crisis that is beyond your control but if your base is solid you will weather the storm.

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PREEMPTION: THE TWO EDGED SWORD IN CRISIS MANAGEMENT

Posted in Business Crises of our own making, Business Crises We Create, Crisis Communication Strategy, Crisis Litigation, Crisis Management, Crisis Mitigation, Liability Communications, Litigation Communications on November 3rd, 2010 by mnayor

 Crisis management and product liability are inextricably linked. Whenever a product fails and causes injury or damage to buyers, a crisis can erupt. The liability of manufacturers and vendors have tightened dramatically over the last hundred years, from the theory of caveat emptor or let the buyer beware, to today, in some cases, strict liability. State laws on matters of health (including the environment) and safety have provided consumers with greater and greater protections over the years.

Businesses of all kinds must be more diligent than ever. Even if negligence and/or misrepresentation are not at issue, a company can still find itself in a great deal of trouble. Accusations concerning causation, erroneous manufacturers’ claims, and customer-product incompatibility can raise the specter of liability and place a company at risk.

Not all products are 100% safe for all people at all times. Thus the concept of warning labels has taken on greater importance, especially in those situations where use may be abused, inappropriate or be accompanied by additional risks. We see this more and more in such industries as pharmaceuticals, foods, toys, automobiles and cosmetics. In today’s world some warnings may not be deemed sufficient because they are either not perceived as strong enough or not evident enough on packaging.

In recent years some companies and even whole industries have looked to preemption as a form of product liability protection from individual and class action suits. Federal preemption is the trumping of federal law over state law when that is the express or implied intention of Congress. Most product liability law is state law through a state’s police powers, and ultimately its state statutes, its common law and court decisions. Oftentimes, federal laws are not as tough as state laws and therefore afford more protection to business. Federal legislation, and even federal regulations, sometimes takes precedence. In fact several agencies of the federal government such as the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, The Federal Trade Commission and its Bureau of Consumer Protection, the Consumer Product Safety Commission, and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration have declared that some of their specific regulations preempt state law and bar or limit consumer redress. 

Federal court decisions have been mixed. In one recent Supreme Court decision the Court ruled that a medical device manufacturer could not be sued by a consumer because the manufacturer had won FDA approval. But in another, the Court held that a patient was not barred from suing a pharmaceutical company for damages just because the product displayed an FDA-approved label.

Preemption may create a dilemma for a company. Certainly, successful preemption can provide the type of protection that can avoid financial calamity. On the other hand, combative and bellicose pursuit of a safe harbor can have an extremely negative effect on a company’s reputation. It is quite easy to appear as consumer-be-damned if preemption coverage is not handled discretely. Reputation management is equally as important, and a company must strike a balance between finding that safe harbor and doing the right thing, between securing financial escape and retaining and developing public support, respect and even admiration.

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FACING A BUSINESS CRISIS OR A COST OF DOING BUSINESS

Posted in Anticipating A Crisis, Business Crises of our own making, Business Crises We Create, Crisis Management Consulting on November 2nd, 2010 by mnayor

A Company admits that it erroneously charged millions of customers for services they never ordered or used. The Company plans to credit current customers and refund former customers to the tune of anywhere from $30 million to $90 million in total. Most companies would consider this a crisis, especially since the regulatory commission with jurisdiction over it says it hasn’t finished with these guys.

Well, not so fast. The Company had been notified at least two years ago that they were overcharging, and did nothing about it. After all, customer service is expensive. Why dig into this messy situation if by ignoring it, customers might give up and go away. The loss to an individual consumer may be a pittance, but the possible refunds may be huge, thereby justifying the gamble that the situation won’t come to light. Even if the Company is caught, things like this happen all the time. The adverse publicity, if there is any, will blow over, and this is a business risk the Company is willing to take.

The Company in this case is Verizon. The Federal Communications Commission continues its investigation and may start a formal proceeding. But Verizon may have already calculated this into the bottom line cost. More and more U.S. companies are consciously deciding to take on bigger and bigger risks. Stated another way, more and more companies are deciding to be dishonest, whether by design or by simply ignoring facts. Some start out to cheat – inferior raw materials, child labor, the list is endless. Others don’t set out to be dishonest but decide not to correct mistakes because of the expense. In today’s environment most companies feel they can weather the storm.

It was recently reported that GlaxoSmithKline, PLC (GSK) agreed to pay $750 million to settle charges that between 2001 and 2005 they distributed adulterated drugs made at its now-closed manufacturing facility in Cidra, Puerto Rico. Authorities said a corporate whistleblower had filed a lawsuit against GSK under provisions of the U.S. False Claims Act. A GSK spokesperson stated that “We regret that we operated the Cidra facility in a manner that was inconsistent with current Good Manufacturing Practice requirements and with GSK’s commitment to manufacturing quality.  GSK worked hard to resolve fully the manufacturing issues at the Cidra facility prior to its closure in 2009 and we are committed to continuous improvement in our manufacturing processes…”   The GSK Puerto Rico subsidiary, SB Pharmco Puerto Rico Inc., will plead guilty to a crime and pay a $150 million fine, including forfeiting assets of $10 million. Under a separate agreement, GSK will pay $600 million to settle federal government and related state claims under the False Claims Act. The guilty plea and sentence is not final until accepted by the U.S. District Court in Boston.

In other lawsuits pharma companies have been accused of paying money to doctors to prescribe their brand-name medications and, in some cases, telling physicians to push “off-label” uses of the drugs which is prohibited by federal law. In the last few years pharma companies have paid up to $7 billion in settlements, criminal and civil fines, and have pled guilty to misdemeanor and sometimes felony charges.

While making these admissions, many continue to assert that they use the highest ethical standards in conducting their businesses, or they are in full compliance with FDA requirements and regulations, or that they continue to operate in the best interest of the public.

It is difficult not to read or hear news almost daily about companies getting caught doing something indifferent to the public interest or unethical in one way or another. The stories no longer appear to be the exception but rather are beginning to constitute business as usual and most people really don’t care unless they are directly involved. Have we come to the point that American business is expected to be dishonest? Is bad behavior so common that a case like these don’t even get a second glance?  Are responsible decisions being replaced by risk analysis? And is crisis management being relied on to merely cover one’s tracks?

Is it possible to revert to the good old days when companies tried to do what was right most of the time, and crisis management was a tool relied on to protect and respond to the public interest, as well as enhance and protect reputations.

Portions of this article were published in Bernstein Crisis Management: http://www.bernsteincrisismanagement.com/nl/crisis-manager-101101.html

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WHAT REALLY CONSTITUTES A BUSINESS CRISIS

Posted in Business Crises of our own making, Business Crises We Create, Crisis Communication Failures, Crisis Communication Response, Crisis Communication Strategy, new customers at the expense of old customers, What is a Business Crisis on October 5th, 2010 by mnayor

 A business crisis can be anything that can negatively effect a company’s reputation or bottom line. Many events at first blush may not appear to be serious. HP’s firing of Mark Hurd and the subsequent entanglement with Oracle was not a big deal in the scheme of things, even though internally it must have been a shocker. However, the death or resignation of a key person in any organization could very well be serious for any company depending on just how key that person really was. Natural catastrophes, product recalls, labor disputes, computer data losses. The list is endless. Some are temporary. Some can cause the demise of a company. Most can be handled with honesty and the realization that it may be necessary to absorb losses over the short haul in order to achieve a long and healthy business life.

Two distinct categories of crisis need to be recognized. In one we lump all those events over which we have no control, such as product tampering by outside forces or natural disasters. Even in these situations there are always some actions we can take: tamper-proof packaging, liability insurance, proper protocols. But generally these events can blind-side us.

The second category contains all those events that might have been avoided had we chosen to take the actions necessary to protect ourselves and the public. Some are obvious. We look at the BP oil spill and see things that surely could have been done.  Other events are not so obvious and these are the ones that can be insidious. When a management believes it is doing the right thing but in fact is fueling a potential crisis we have the makings of a catastrophe. A couple of examples will make this abundantly clear.

Market share is usually very important to a company, oddly sometimes more important than the bottom line. There is always great competition for new customers. Many times the efforts and resources devoted to advertising, marketing and selling to new customers are at the expense of a company’s loyal  customer base. This can even be seen at the local level. Where I live heating oil companies consistently offer new customers a deal for the first year in order to lure them in. This, of course, is done at the expense of old, loyal customers who have to make up the slack. The result is that many savvy oil customers these days do a lot of shopping each year to find the best deal. Loyalty is a thing of the past. On a national level the problem has gotten even more serious. A recent financial story in The New Yorker last month observed that there is almost universal recognition that customer service in this country has deteriorated. Such service is considered a “cost”. Companies are looking for the customers they don’t have so they are willing to spend on marketing and advertising but are not as interested in adding to their costs of service. The article made it sound a little like cynical dating. Companies are interested in luring you in but then once they have you, they don’t quite value you as much as the next potential customer they want to corral.

Lack of service is not just a pain for helpless consumers. In this internet age they can do something about it. This is how a company can sow the seeds of its own destruction, and inexorably create its own crisis. Companies and their products and services are being rated on the internet and consumers don’t hold back. They tell it like it is. Granted, competitors may be planting some of these negative comments but for the most part product and service evaluations are being taken at face value. The moral of the story: be faithful to those who brought you to the dance, or the consequences could be severe.

Another form of self-inflicted crisis involves weathering the storm. Whether in politics, professional sports, or in business, “players” still believe that because of their importance they can ride out any issue or problem. They can’t. We can all easily tick off a dozen or so examples, but the latest is surprising. Johnson & Johnson has recently gone through a spate of recalls of tainted children’s Tylenol and Motrin. The Company has generally kept a low profile and even contracted with a third party to buy up Motrin off retail shelves rather than announce an actual recall. And for the last decade it has been settling with claimants for a variety of injuries and death allegedly due from Ortho Evra, a contraceptive patch made by its subsidiary, Ortho McNeil. It appears clear that the current management of J&J has not followed in the footsteps of the management that handled the Tylenol crisis of 1982 which is often cited as the quintessential example of crisis management in modern corporate history. Back then cyanide had been found in bottles of Tylenol in the Chicago area. J&J immediately issued public warnings, issued a product recall, created tamper-proof packaging, and before long was back in business. The Company was up-front and willing to bite the bullet in the best interests of the public. Unfortunately that does not appear to be the philosophy today. There is clearly a danger in believing one’s invincibility. The trust and respect of the public is at stake, and once lost, is very difficult to retrieve.

A crisis is not just the obvious explosion at a plant or a mine. Companies can and do create their own crises. Companies must evaluate their philosophy, their strategy and their honesty. They must take action to minimize their vulnerabilities but at the same time be prepared to take action in the best interests of the public if they value company longevity.

Originally published in the Management Help Library of  http://managementhelp.org/blogs/crisis-management/2010/10/13/what-really-constitutes-a-business-crisis/

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