Natural disasters – Coping with Catastrophes

Natural disaster

When a 1981 tornado took out his biggest cash cow—the most profitable of his nine Sound of Music stores—Dick Schulze focused on possibilities, not pain. The storeroom, remarkably, was spared. So Dick held a Tornado Sale in the parking lot. Lured by steeply discounted stereo gear, thousands of Minnesotans swarmed the place. Police had to shut down traffic, so great was the frenzy stirred by the overnight best buy in town. Realizing he had stumbled onto something, Dick phoned his other eight stores: “Bring over more hi-fi components and car stereos!” Within two years, he had completely transitioned from average prices/average volume to deep discounts/high volume. It worked. Oh, he also slapped on a new name—Best Buy.

Personal crisis

It was an ordinary Monday night for Larry Dennison—except for the killer headache. Everyone else in his Farmers Insurance Group office had gone home, so Larry dialed 911. The one-time district manager of the year was lucky. Most aneurysm victims don’t make it to the phone. One month in an intensive care unit and two surgeries later, Larry was left with unintelligible speech and double vision, and confined to a wheelchair. A doctor told Larry’s wife, Gay, that her husband was months away from rehab. A nursing home, the doc said, was the best option. She shot back four words: “Over my dead body.” Gay saw to it that Larry stayed put.

Larry beat the odds. In October 2001, nine months after his aneurysm, he returned to work. His balance, speech, and vision were still severely impaired. His patient staff helped him operate his keyboard, and they weren’t shy about asking Larry to repeat himself. He used a walker to navigate corridors. Month by month, Larry grew stronger. Today, I can understand almost everything my friend says. His handshake is firm and he walks without a cane. Once again, his district is one of the country’s top producers. He even went on to win two more prestigious awards. Larry’s recipe for recovery? He surrounded himself with good people. He expected the best and prepared for the worst. He picked himself up every time he fell, and never lost his sense of humor

Public relations crisis

A salmonella outbreak had sickened tens of thousands of Minnesotans. The culprit? Schwan’s ice cream, state officials told the manufacturer’s senior management during a conference call. Before hanging up, Alfred Schwan ordered his people to stop making and selling the company’s flagship product. He cut his business trip short and caught the first flight home. The next morning, the media descended on Schwan’s rural headquarters. Alfred was ready. When a reporter asked what he was going to tell customers, Alfred’s reply revealed the depth of his character: “Don’t eat Schwan’s ice cream.” The outbreak, he said, was unacceptable. He apologized to his customers and announced a recall of every last scoop. A week later, authorities nabbed the perpetrator. The salmonella was traced to a subcontracted trucking company that had carried Schwan’s ice cream ingredients in the same tankers it used to transport raw eggs.

Last word

Never, under any circumstances, lie. Lying to the public will permanently damage your company’s image, to say nothing of your personal credibility. It takes only one solid hit to knock off the crown of a good name. If you don’t know an answer, say that you don’t know, that you’ll do everything you can to get that information. If a question is best left unanswered, pledge to address it when the full picture comes into focus.

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