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Unconventional Crisis Management: Revolution in Egypt

This lesson is a part of an audio course Unconventional Crisis Management by Paul Andrew Smith

On January 25, 2011, a revolution erupted in cities across Egypt. Millions of protesters took to the streets demanding free elections and a stop to police brutality, high unemployment, political corruption, and rampant inflation.

Now, the protests started peacefully enough, but quickly escalated to violence. Hundreds of deaths and thousands of injuries were reported in the days that followed. The capital city of Cairo looked like a war zone. People started leaving the city in droves. Rasoul Madadi, a Procter & Gamble ex-pat from the U.S., was one of them, along with his wife and his six-year-old son.

On Sunday of that week, Rasoul took his family to the Cairo airport. Their destination didn’t matter, as long as it was out of Egypt. But there were massive flight cancellations. The airport was overcrowded, and food and water were getting scarce. Panic was setting in.

And with so many flights canceled, only a few people had a chance of getting out that day. So, juggling three different cell phones, Rasoul started calling both the travel agencies his company provided to buy more tickets. He knew that to have a decent chance of getting out, he needed to buy tickets on several flights and hope that at least one of them made it out. But that would be expensive.

So, he called his boss and asked what he was authorized to spend to get his family to safety. The response was, “Take care of your family first. Do what’s best for you; I approve. I’m in touch with our global security contacts in Dubai and Johannesburg to advise you what to do no matter what country you land in.” Then he got hold of a human resources manager in the United Kingdom and asked for advice. “Get on the first flight you can. We will take care of everything else.” And they did, as you’ll see.

Then a colleague from overseas called to offer help. Rasoul said, “I need help with travel.” So she called her administrator, who was especially good at managing complex global travel. She spent most of her Saturday arranging alternate flights and hotels in several cities that were quickly booking up.

With all of that help, Rasoul was able to get tickets for all three family members on five separate flights out of Cairo that day. And then they waited. The first flight was canceled only minutes before it was supposed to take off. The second one was canceled not much later. Other people waiting in line started asking him, “How do you have so many tickets?”

They finally got a Singapore Airlines flight to Dubai. But after landing in Dubai, Rasoul’s wife wasn’t allowed to enter the country on her Canadian passport. Apparently, a new rule allowed a Canadian to enter Dubai only as a visitor. So, she had to have a paid ticket out of Dubai before they’d let her into Dubai. So, Rasoul made another frantic phone call to the company travel office. They bought a new ticket on the spot for his wife and faxed it to the immigration office.

Another charge to the corporate credit card, and an hour later they got into Dubai—all of them.

Well, after checking into a hotel arranged by the corporate team earlier, Rasoul called the local human resources manager and explained his situation: no cash, no access to his bank account in Egypt, and his credit card quickly reaching its limit. HR told him not to worry. “We knew you might be coming here. We’ll take care of you. Just tell us what you need.”

And as a result of all of that, Rasoul Madadi is still employed at Procter & Gamble, and coming up on 30 years with the company.

Alright, here's the lesson. This is how a company should respond to a crisis when people’s lives are at stake. You drop everything and take care of your people. You break rules. You give people authorization to do things you’d never allow during normal times. You spend money on things you’d never spend it on in normal times. You think outside the box. And that creativity and commitment you show your employees during those times of crisis will generate a loyalty that you couldn’t earn in any other way.

Okay, in the next lesson, you’ll hear how the CFO of Dun & Bradstreet responded when she found out the company had been reporting its revenues wrong for a decade.

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Written by

Paul Andrew Smith