Even as Lufthansa CEO Carsten Spohr defiantly and defensively told reporters yesterday that the airline, whose subsidiary airliner crashed in the Alps killing 150 people, that the company would not change its procedures, it did.
And in an exchange with NBC reporter Katy Tur, he further mucked up his credibility and with it, his management of this crisis.
“I wish you understood my German, because I said twice and I repeated in English, without any doubt, my firm confidence in the selection of our pilots, in the training of our pilots, in the qualifications of our pilots, and the work of our pilots has not been touched by this single tragedy.”
Really? Dude, your selected, trained, qualified, working pilot drove himself and 149 innocent people into a mountain at 440 mph with calm breathing as his only explanation.
It’s natural for a CEO to be defensive in the face of the facts of a tragedy. But good training would have produced an answer more like this:
“Given the facts of this tragic event, Lufthansa will review its selection, training, qualification and work rules for all our pilots. While I am confident that our professional staff meet or exceed the highest standards in our industry, this is a stressful occupation and we want to be as certain as we can that something like this never happens again.”
As for the rule changes, The Los Angeles Times reported that “in response to the revelations about the crash of Germanwings Flight 9525, the German Aviation Association announced Thursday that all German carriers had agreed to new procedures, similar to those already in effect in the United States, that would require two people in a plane’s cockpit at all times. Several other carriers — including Air Canada, EasyJet, Norwegian Air Shuttle and Icelandair — announced similar changes in protocol.”
Thus we have in full denial mode a CEO faced with a tragedy caused by a criminal intervention that will lead to hundreds of millions of dollars of insurance company payouts to the victims. Let’s give him credit for standing up and answering questions, and in at least two languages no less. Few American CEOs could match that.
But his defiance in the face of the facts will just lace the reporting corps with motivation to ask tougher questions.
No one in crisis management suggests that a CEO become a patsy or a wimp in the face of a crisis. Quite the contrary. It’s easy to be defiant. Anger fuels it. Fear does as well. Jobs are on the line. Millions in ticket sales and profits are as well.
It’s much harder to stand up and see the world factually and how everyone else sees it and admit something went wrong.
The content of this blog is about crisis management and mismanagement in a digital age. It originates with Steve Bell, who spent 30 years as a journalist for the Associated Press and in four top editor positions at The Buffalo News. He is now Partner/Director of Public Affairs and Crisis and Reputation Management at Eric Mower + Associates, one of the nation’s largest independent advertising, integrated marketing and public relations agencies, with eight offices in the East. Learn more about EMA at mowerpr.com/crisisready. Steve’s blog is based on his own opinions and does not represent the views or positions of Eric Mower + Associates.