Monday, November 03, 2014

Sir Richard Branson - the right words at the right time

The reaction from Sir Richard Branson to the tragic crash of Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo, which killed co-pilot Michael Tyner Alsbury and seriously injured pilot Peter Siebold has been both timely and appropriate. 

The Virgin Founder was on the scene of the incident in the Mojave Desert within hours of the crash and delivered a press conference in which he praised the bravery of both men on board, determined to find the cause of the problem, and re-stated his commitment to commercial space travel. Not only that, he confirmed that he would still be a passenger on the first Virgin Galactic flight. "There is no way I would ask others to go on a Virgin Galactic flight if I didn't feel it was safe enough for myself," he told CNN on Monday.

His words echoed those he delivered back in February 2007 at the scene of a rail crash in Cumbria, where a Virgin Pendolino train had derailed with many injuries and one fatality. In a memorable address to the assembled media, Sir Richard said Virgin cared about "people" and "safety" above "profit" and "finance". He called the driver a "hero" and thanked the local community for rallying round "opening their hearts and doors" to those injured and shocked.

Though he's not a naturally confident speaker, Sir Richard Branson has the ability to deliver the right words at the right time. His response to both incidents is exemplary behaviour for the head of an organisation involved in such crises. In short he:
  • Makes great efforts to reach the scene as quickly as possible
  • Takes control of the media by calling a press conference
  • Talks about his feelings for the people involved, especially those injured, and the families and friends of anyone killed
  • Promises to find the cause of the incident, without speculating what it might be
  • Reassures customers that safety is a very high priority
  • Ensures that any victims are properly looked after
There's one more thing that's often forgotten after events like this, and that is to keep an eye out for any media reports which give a misleading impression. Today, Sir Richard was quick to point out that press reports of an explosion on board SpaceShipTwo were wrong. Referring to the initial report by the National Safety Transportation Board he said: "They've ruled out a lot of the very British speculation by self-proclaimed experts over the weekend, in saying that the fuel tanks, the engine were all intact, and that there was no explosion, and they will come out with more findings in the next couple of days".
Any CEO with the misfortune to find themselves with a similarly tough crisis to deal with would do well to borrow the Branson playbook.

Image Credit: Creative Commons License

1 comment:

Mark Sinclair said...

Nice article Alan. What do you think about his "handling" of Jon Snow?