- April 5, 2017
- Posted by: David Marshall
- Category: Business, Management, Safety
Always hire good people. If there’s a problem, they’ll take care of it.
Several years ago, I was in Dubai on a business trip, and I had just gone to bed. It was 10:30 pm local time, an 8 hour difference between me and our factory in Texas. The phone rang and jolted me awake.
It was our Controller, Vijay Kumar, who is a very unflappable and thorough individual. He’s the kind of person who proofreads photocopies, that’s how thorough he is. I asked him how everything was.
“Ohhh, not good,” Vijay said.
“What’s going on?” I asked.
“Well, it looks like the building is on fire,” he said. Not “the building is on fire,” rather “it looks like the building is on fire.
Sure enough, the building was on fire. We had a serious fire inside the factory, at the post-cure oven, which is an area about the size of a railroad car. But the product that was burning was creating a lot of toxic smoke and emissions. The people in the facility, from the plant manager to the supervisors to the associates, all handled it very well. The office and plant were evacuated, and people sprang into action.
Our factory is in an area served by a volunteer fire brigade, and we have some eager volunteers. The idea is to drop everything you’re doing and scramble to the fire whenever those sirens go off. One of the first firefighters on the scene was a guy only in boots and shorts, who had to wait for the rest of the equipment and people to show up on the truck.
Meanwhile, the sprinkler system had kicked in and the plant manager, Eric Nichols, and the associates and supervisors were working like hell with the fire extinguishers, but it took another 30 minutes or so for the fire brigade to actually arrive and start battling the fire.
I have to say, I have never been prouder of a group of people — plant managers, associates, and even our controller — in dealing with this fire. They kept it contained and under control while the fire brigade was still assembling out. They kept a relatively small fire from consuming the entire plant.
Step Two: Leap Into Action, Fly Home
Once I knew the fire was contained, I had them take the next steps to get everything in motion while I got on the plane and flew straight home.
I authorized Vijay and Eric to begin calling contractors to immediately replace all the carpet, ceiling tiles, and insulation in the office that had been smoke damaged. I had them start booking those contractors, even while the fire brigade was still cleaning up and stowing their gear. I also wanted the contractors to wash and seal all the affected office walls, and repaint them to ensure we got rid of the stink and the smoke damage.
We had to act quickly for two reasons:
- For one thing, I was concerned about company morale. We had worked hard over the last few years to rebuild and restructure the workforce, and make sure people were being cross-trained in different duties, to let them know they were valued. We couldn’t have them working in a dirty, dingy office or factory floor while we waited for the insurance company. It didn’t send a good message that we valued our staff as people.
- For another, I was worried about claims of personal injury. I wanted to make sure everybody was working in a sanitized environment and not have to worry about — or make claims about — chemical inhalation and toxic work environments. And in case the insurance company would complain that we didn’t allow them enough time to assess the damage, I told them about how we were working to avoid a rash of personal injury claims due to chemical and fumes inhalation, and they were more than happy with our actions. They approved everything we did, and we had no difficulties in getting our insurance payments.
All in all, the renovation took about five months before everything was back to normal, but they were in the office working the very next day on replacing and renovating everything that had been damaged by the fire. Eric did a fantastic job of getting the post-cure oven rebuilt, and up and running very quickly, because without it, we couldn’t ship material.
And even in the aftermath, we were all able to pull together and work toward a single objective: to ensure we never missed a single shipment. That’s a testament to the kind of organization we had been building, because we never missed a single one.
The objective of being in business is to dazzle and delight customers, and not cause them to suffer your problems. So even though it might have been an understandable excuse, we couldn’t let the fire be a reason that we couldn’t fulfill our promises.
All because we hired good people who could take care of a serious problem like a factory fire, even when I was half a world away.
I’ve been a manufacturing executive, as well as a sales and marketing professional, for a few decades. Now I help companies turn around their own business. If you would like more information, please visit my website and connect with me on Twitter or LinkedIn.