Friday, April 18, 2014

BP Crisis Team Member Accused Of Profiting From 2010 Spill

When is the last time you heard about a member of a crisis team working on a major (or minor) corporate crisis that turned that crisis response into a personal million dollar windfall?

A former BP crisis team leader is facing federal insider trading charges for using confidential information about the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill disaster.  He stands accused of taking advantage of the oil rig explosion that killed 11 workers and polluted the ocean and coast of the Southeast United States to unload his $1-million portfolio of BP stock.

Keith Seilhan was responsible for coordinating BP's containment and clean-up response.

The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) charged Seilhan of using insider crisis team information to "avoid losses and reap unjust profits" as BP securities dropped nearly 48-percent in the wake of the disaster.

In addition to the 11 deaths, the Gulf of Mexico was polluted with 84 days of uncontrolled spillage that dumped an estimated 200-million gallons of crude oil.  

Seilhan's attorney, Mary McNamara told USA Today reporter Kevin McCoy, her client wants to avoid further distraction and protracted litigation. And then she added, he's "widely respected for his work helping to lead the clean-up and containment efforts."

Was she talking about "the clean-up" of the spilled crude oil, or his alleged "cleaning up" financially?

In the days immediately after the explosion and uncontrolled flow of oil, the company publicly reported they were losing about 5,000 barrels of oil per day, but the SEC says Seilhan learned from his role on the crisis team that the rate of loss was between 64,000 to 110,000 barrels a day. He is accused of selling 87,512 shares of BP Stock and three BP stock-option grants.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

The GM Recall and Social Media

General Motors has recently recalled, reluctantly and belatedly in some cases, 1.6-million cars and seem to concede that 12 people have died as a result of crashes in those cars in the past five years. 

There have been reports that many more have died because of defective ignition switches in six models of  GM cars and the company is getting hammered for not revealing the danger for years.

That's the bad news.  But, the good news is the company, under the leadership of its new CEO Mary Barra, is beginning to take action and actually doing a number of things well. She has appeared in video messages to customers and employees and generally said the right things and mostly delivered her messages in a believable and sincere manner.

The company is still using conventional methods of reaching out to key audiences, using direct mail, blogs and a beefed up call center, but it now has a team of 20 people working in its Detroit social media center responding to complaints and inquiries seven days a week.  And they appear to be inviting unhappy customers and others "off-line" for private and personal discussions, leading to efforts by the car company to resolve issues and speed up loaner car requests and repair to the defective automobiles.

Crimson Hexagon, a social media research company in Boston, reports about 26-percent of Twitter postings that mention GM are "positive" while 71-percent have been neutral and only three-percent have been negative.

According to Crimson Hexagon's Elizabeth Breese, most of the public discussion about the defective GM cars and the company's feet dragging, is being "driven by auto, business and media authors."

It's worth a visit to GM's Facebook page to see what a relatively small number of unhappy customers are writing and all the other things car people are talking about, totally unrelated to the negative "defect" issue.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

A CEO Finally Did It Right!

                 Finally, a Corporate CEO did the right thing, in the right way, after explaining a corporate decision terribly inappropriately and talking too bluntly about it publicly.
            By now, you’ve heard about the very public “foot in mouth” comments by AOL CEO Tim Armstrong.  In case you’ve been out of touch for a couple of days, here’s a quick recap.

            In recent months at least two employees of AOL or one of its subsidiaries have had children with major medical expenses.  One was born four months premature and suffered complications that could have led to its death.  In fact the family was told their little baby girl had a one in three chance of dying before she was strong enough to go home.

            But with a little miracle and very dedicated healthcare professionals working around the clock, the infant is flourishing and home with her family.

            Now, how could such a happy ending cause so much grief for AOL’s Armstrong?
            Last week Armstrong was speaking to a “town hall” of AOL employees and announced he was cutting their 401 (k) benefits and linked his decision to two employee families with sick infants. 

            One mother, Deanna Fei reacted publicly and strongly in a first-person story for the on-line magazine Slate.  She took exception to what Armstrong said in his town hall comments saying “how (he) exposed the most searing experience of our lives . . . for no other purpose than an absurd justification for corporate cost cutting.”
            She said when she heard about his comments and justification for the benefit reductions, “It just seemed so completely dehumanizing . . . “ and “ . . .a violation, for singling us out for using the health plan we paid for.”

            By Sunday, Armstrong not only decided to reinstate the 401 (k) benefits, but he telephoned Fei, with what she described as a “heartfelt apology, saying he was sorry for telling staff that costs associated with two employee’s sick infants formed part of the reason for cutting” everyone else’s benefits.
            She would not go into detail about what he said to her, but she said he spoke to her “as a person to another person,” and not as a CEO.  “His apology was heartfelt and I appreciated it,” she said.
            When the company announced it would not cut 401 (k) benefits, Armstrong was quoted saying, “I made a mistake and I apologize for my comments last week at the town hall when I mentioned specific healthcare examples in trying to explain our decision making process around our employee benefit program.”

            A company spokesperson confirmed Armstrong had contacted both families and apologized.

            Better planning and a more thoughtful message announcing the benefit cuts would not have eased the potential financial loss to employees, but would have led to some disappointment but not the kind of negative public embarrassment the CEO  and AOL suffered.