What CEOs should do in crisis situations

MANILA, Philippines — In crisis situations, what should chief executive officers (CEOs) do to protect the company's interests?

Showing compassion, a basic Filipino trait, was one of the most crucial but neglected efforts in recent incidents involving two of the country's biggest companies, according to two long-time public relations practitioners. 

In an interview on ANC's Inside Business on Thursday, June 13, Creative Point International Inc. chairman and CEO Dante Velasco and Marbella International Business Consultancy CEO Winston Marbella said a crisis requires a CEO who is on top of the situation and making assurances that the crisis won't happen again.

Both Lance Gokongwei, president and CEO of budget airline Cebu Pacific, and Antonino Aquino showed they were in-charge when their companies figured in separate incidents that harmed lives.

What they lacked was showing that they care, the PR practitioners noted. 

Cebu Pacific's Gokongwei

Gokongwei personally apologized to those whose "travel plans were disrupted" when a Cebu Pacific Airbus A320-200 aircraft landed on its nose at the grassy part of the Davao international airport runway on June 2. 

Velasco noted that Gokongwei's apology came with an effort to defend the actions of his airline crew who did not immediately deplane the 165 passengers. No one was harmed but complaints about being traumatized by the "inefficiency" of the cabin crew poured in.

"He was congratulating his crew. It was quite a misplaced statement. At that time, you have to show compassion," he said.

Winston Marbella, however, gave Gokongwei the benefit of the doubt, saying the budget carrier executive must have been "thinking about motivating his crew."

Ayala Land's Aquino

Ayala Land CEO Aquino also failed to go out of his way to show compassion to the families of the victims of the Serendra blast last May 31, Velasco said.

Velasco noted that Aquino showed that he was on top of the situation after a condominium unit in Ayala-built Serendra Two apartment complex in Bonifacio Global City exploded, killing 3 people and injuring 4.

"Yes, he was in charge... The element of having expertise is there," Velasco said, noting the updates Ayala Land provided via official statements. "But the element of compassion should have been [there, too]." 

"He could have added a little heart like, 'We feel with them, their pain and suffering'," he said.

Ayala Land's top executives stayed mostly behind the scenes as the Serendra blast investigation proceeded, allowing Interior Secretary Mar Roxas to be the sole public face for handling the incident. Ayala Land's public statements provided updates on how the affected residents in Serendra were accommodated elsewhere. 

Unlike Gokongwei who had readily apologized, Aquino said they will wait for the government to complete its investigation on who is accountable for the deadly blast.

Velasco said the companies can still recover from the damage the incidents have inflicted on the two corporate brands.

"Mindset of crisis preparedness must come from the CEOs themselves," Marbella said. - Rappler.com