“Crisis doesn’t create character, it reveals it.”
— American comedian Dennis Leary
No one welcomes a crisis. But when “things happen,” responsible leaders deal with the consequences. They resist the urge to hide, to obfuscate or to shift the blame.
The landscape is littered with business leaders who failed to rise to the challenge. Take Uber founder Travis Kalanick’s unwillingness to take control of the narrative about his company’s toxic culture. Or United Airlines CEO Oscar Munoz’ belated non-apology after a viral video showed law enforcement officers dragging a bloodied passenger from one of United’s planes.
Contrast those inept crisis-management responses with Sol Petroleum’s behavior following the July 23 fire at the Jackson Point Fuel Terminal, which forced hundreds of people from their homes and ignited fears of what might have happened if fire officials had not been able to contain the blaze.
Immediately after the incident, Sol management issued a statement apologizing for the inconvenience, praising the emergency responders, vowing to review safety procedures and promising to work closely with inspectors to determine the cause of the fire.
When an initial investigation yielded inconclusive results, Sol officials shared the information with the public and explained exactly why a more exhaustive investigation may take weeks to conduct (requiring internal inspection of the sealed tank, which first must be completely drained and ventilated).
Weeks later, they continue to be responsive and responsible. As we report in today’s Compass, Sol officials confirmed that the company will compensate any evacuees who incurred hotel expenses as a result of the fire.
It can be easy (too easy) for activists, critics and politicians to target large companies such as Sol in order to promote their own platforms, to use the term “multinational” as shorthand for a faceless, soulless, unreachable entity that cares only about the bottom line. Sol’s post-fire actions remind us that even the largest and most “multinational” firms rely ultimately on local workforces in local markets.
Sol, its competitor Rubis and their predecessors (including Esso and Texaco) have been part of the South Church Street area since 1960, when the Jackson Point fuel terminal first was constructed.
It is important to remember that Sol and Rubis did not choose the current location for the fuel terminal. We are certain that they, like almost everyone else, would prefer to have the fuel tanks in a less residential and populated area. The truth is the neighborhood grew up (and continues to grow) around the facility which was built more than a half-century ago.
We should also recognize the good constituent work of freshman George Town MLA Barbara Conolly, who arranged a public forum that drew 60 concerned area residents and gave them a chance to air their grievances and concerns.
Wesley Howell, chief officer in the Ministry of Home Affairs, deserves special mention for his comportment at that event. He listened to residents’ concerns and accepted responsibility on behalf of government officials for poor communications on the night of the fire. Such a concession is the first, and in some ways the most difficult, step toward accountability.
While the immediate crisis of the Jackson Point fire is behind us, a far longer road lies ahead, namely resolving the fuel terminal’s existence and placement. Devising long-term solutions to potential problems will require cooperation and communication among Sol, Rubis, government officials and others.
If Sol’s recent performance is indicative of the company’s good-faith efforts to conduct business in a responsible and accountable fashion, we have reason to be optimistic about the prospect of positive outcomes.