Weird. I popped “Tony Hayward” and “Masataka Shimizu” into Google and
clicked the News tab. Know how many hits I got as of late March 22?
The Guardian produced an article titled “Embattled Tepco faces its BP moment over Japan nuclear disaster.”
That’s it? You get two major corporate disasters in a year and nobody’s drawing parallels?
Even the blogosphere wasn’t doing much better, with a total of 4 hits, most with the same title as the Guardian article.
Come on, folks.
This isn’t just about two disasters. It’s about two corporate leaders
under tremendous pressure and scrutiny and taking two totally different
tacks in how to deal with it.
Consider Tony Hayward, who as CEO of BP during the Deepwater Horizon
oil spill, didn’t take much time before he went front and center with
the media, trying his darnedest to do what so many experts advise: get
the leader out there in times of disaster and communicate, communicate,
communicate. You know – be calm but empathetic, be self-assured but not
cocky, be truthful but don’t admit anything that’s going to land your
organization in a multibillion lawsuit – all that kind of thing.
Hayward was not, as it turned out, a shining star. On May 19, 2011, Bloomberg Businessweek
reported Hayward as saying the environmental impact of the spill would
likely be “very, very modest.” That was the start of what some thought
of as his bloopers. On May 30, he told a reporter
“we’re sorry for the massive disruption it’s caused to their lives.
There’s no one who wants this thing over more than I do, I’d like my
life back.” That reference to his own sufferings didn’t play too well in
the global village. He later apologized for what was probably a pretty
I think that Hayward was going to get hammered no matter what he said. Sometimes that’s just the price a leader needs to pay on behalf of his or her organization.
This leads us to the case of Masataka Shimizu, CEO of Tokyo Electric Power Co.
Amid one of the worst nuclear power crises in history, he has tough to locate. On March 21, Reuters ran the story “Where is Japan’s nuclear power CEO?” It reported:
[M]any Japanese, on a knife edge waiting to see if the
nuclear power plant and radiation leaks can be brought under control,
are beginning to ask where he is and questioning how much he is in
control of the crisis.
In other words, Shimizu has not gotten out in front of the public to
reassure them or, at least, apprise them of the situation. Maybe he’s
intentionally trying to avoid the missteps of Tony Hayward. Or maybe
he’s utterly committing himself of managing the details of the crisis
and doesn’t feel he has time to play public relations. It’s hard to
clear, however, is that two entirely different leadership styles are at
play amid these disasters. It’s too soon to know which will prove to be
better for the individuals, their organizations or the public at large.
I doubt there are any real winners in such scenarios. But I think it’s
certain that both situations will be major case studies on leadership
during times of disaster for many years to come.