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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FAILURE TO ANTICIPATE: THE WALMART EXAMPLE

Posted in Anticipating A Crisis, Anticipation, Business Crisis Management, corporate integrity, Crisis Communication Strategy, Crisis Management, Crisis Management Planning, Doing the right thing, Ethics and Crisis Management, Honesty and directness in dealing with a crisis, Wal-Mart on May 3rd, 2012 by mnayor

On April 22nd, 2012 The New York Times broke a huge story on Wal-Mart’s Walmex subsidiary. The subsidiary is alleged to have systematically engaged in bribery in order to grease the wheels of  its store expansion program in Mexico. Two of its most senior executives have been directly implicated in the scheme and the subsequent cover-up. The fallout has been dramatic including upcoming Congressional and Justice Department investigations and investigations within Mexico, a precipitous drop in Wal-Mart’s stock price, and perhaps worst of all, a huge black eye to WalMart’s reputation for integrity.

 This is a story that will not go away soon, even with the short collective memory for which the U.S.public is noted, and even with the perception we have, mistaken or not, about how business is done inMexico. The investigations and potential lawsuits will wend their way forward but Wal-Mart has an immediate problem: how to revive its reputation which was essentially snuffed out by one newspaper story. Unless there are very clear explanations that go beyond mere flim-flam, cut your losses Wal-Mart. Cooperate with investigations to ensure that they are completed rapidly. Develop your best explanations. Negotiate your fines for violating the Federal Corrupt Practices Act. Make restitution wherever it is required. Terminate those who were complicit. Get your house in order as quickly as you can.

 But this article is not about what to do now. It is about what should have been done. Wal-Mart’s story is as old as the hills. It is the same story as Richard Nixon and Watergate, Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky, Enron, Goldman-Sachs. And on and on and on. It is the story of hubris. It is the story of deceit. It is the story of the ostrich.

 Faced with a calamitous issue, a powerful person, a powerful company, a powerful country is most likely still to believe that there is a good chance of getting away with something. Lie low and time will make the issue recede into history. Put a band aid on and no one will dare to pierce your impenetrable shell. What would have happened if Wal-Mart had entertained a genuine independent internal investigation when it had the opportunity, and made those findings known to the Justice Department and toMexico? There would have been a much smaller story. Wal-Mart would at least have been accused of being honorable. Its reputation for integrity would have been burnished. It would have paid a price but perhaps not as steep a price as it will now pay.

 Why don’t people get it? Because there is a gambler in all of us, even when the odds are poor. Is there a chance we can get away with something? Let’s give it a try. What do we have to lose? Ask Richard Nixon. Ask Bill Clinton. Ask all those who have tried to wheedle their way out of messes only to get caught. Ah but then again there is always that other guy, the guy who got away with it. We should follow him. He’s a smart guy. He knew the angles. If he could do it, we can too.  Right now things are calm. Let’s not rock the boat. But in the long run the straight-shooter almost always wins.

Crisis management is not only activated when a cris occurs. It begins prior to a crisis in order to avoid a crisis or lessen its severity. Preparation and right-thinking separate those companies and organizations from those that merely kick the can or determine to ignore or purposefully hide a potentially serious issue.

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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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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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