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
Any CEO with the misfortune to find themselves with a similarly tough crisis to deal with would do well to borrow the Branson playbook.
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