Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Bulletin: Standing Up
Early in my career, I realized I never wanted to be a refinery plant manager, even though that was the pinnacle of the career path on which I began. One of the main reasons for this, aside from the 24/7 intrusions into one's personal time--before cellphones, when that concept still meant something--was the understanding that on a refinery's best day its excellent performance is taken for granted, and on its worst day, it is on TV, burning. Two months ago, such an incident occurred at BP's Texas City, TX refinery. At the time I commented on BP's high-profile crisis management, including a flying visit and press conference by Lord Browne, the CEO. This afternoon BP released a truly remarkable statement accepting responsibility for the accident and accompanying loss of life.

It seems to have become the norm that when something bad happens, or someone is caught doing something they shouldn't be doing, they will issue a denial, whether of the facts, or their involvement, or of any responsibility. It is refreshing and encouraging to see a major corporation, in an industry not generally noted for forthright communications with the public, accept full responsibility not only for an explosion at one of their facilities, but for the accompanying injuries and loss of life. Nor are they hiding behind the contractors by whom most of the injured workers were actually employed. Their lawyers must have had fits when it was first suggested that they go public with this. In fact, that reaction would be understandable, because it is nearly inconceivable in our society that this will not "be used in evidence against them in a court of law."

I hope that doesn't happen, because it would warn off everyone else who might be tempted to tell the unvarnished truth in situations like this. Imagine, for instance, how different the last couple of years would have been for Martha Stewart,had she simply admitted that she screwed up. Instead, she's wearing a tracking anklet, while Lord Browne will be collecting deserved kudos for being a stand-up guy.

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