Some people at work deliver in a crisis. Are they unsung heroes?
Last month, for example, my computer lost its memory the day before my column deadline. Hours on the telephone with the manufacturer’s technical support staff didn’t help. Luckily, I found my personal hero.
David Bell, a toubleshooter in the Redmond, Wash., office of the Omaha-based, $4.2 billion technology investment firm, Inacom, magically diagnosed and fixed the glitch in less than five minutes. Without fanfare. For him, this was business as usual.
Other incidents are far more serious. Jean Dickinson, senior account supervisor at the Los Angeles office of global public relations firm Hill and Knowlton, told of such a crisis.
When an account executive missed a client conference call, colleague Melanie Gravdal, sensed something wrong. Gravdal called the woman at home, but no on answered. Persisting, she drove 30 minutes to the missing woman’s home. Her car was still in the driveway, but no one answered the door. Gravdal called for help on her cellular phone.
Within minutes, emergency response crews arrived and whisked her co-worker to an emergency room. They attributed the woman’s blackout to a potentially fatal diabetic coma.
Although most crises in the workplace aren’t life-threatening, they appear no less pressing. Myra McElhaney, a public speaker and trainer, is president of Atlanta’s McElhaney & Associates. She recalls her arrival at the airport in the Bahamas seven years ago, en route to train Liz Claiborne sales employees converging from throughout the Caribbean.
“When customs officials learned that I had no work permit,” she reports, “I was escorted off to a little room for questioning. The first uniformed official paced in front of my chair. Once he finished, another uniformed official came in and did the same thing. I was terrified!” Officials permitted her to enter the country, but her luggage, filled with Claiborne products, stayed behind.
A call from the hotel to Jean Legoubey, owner of Prestige Corp., a fragrance distributor and the meeting planner, brought a solution. Accustomed to conducting business in the Virgin Islands, he went to the airport and negotiated for the luggage in time for McElhaney’s presentation.
Sometimes, crisis situations are humorous, especially in the telling. In February, Benjamin Moore & Co., a leading paint manufacturer headquartered in Montvale, N.J., was launching a new color system, the first in more than a decade, to its 600 dealerships, according to Bobbi Schlesinger, president of Freeman Public Relations in Clifton, N.J. Budget for the introduction reached the multimillions.
“Eileen McComb, director of Benjamin Moore’s corporate communications, rented a townhouse in Manhattan to demonstrate the new in-store color system,” Schlesinger explains. “She’d had a caterer create a ‘colorful’ dinner, color-coordinated everything from silk scarves to table settings, and hired a ‘performance painter’ to entertain.” Accompanied by music, he was to paint portraits of famous people on the guests’ faces. Fifteen minutes before show time, he announced dramatically that he couldn’t perform without towels (to wipe brushes on while he danced and changed colors). The audience waited while an assistant grabbed a cab, disappearing into rush hour (and not returning that evening). Without towels, the painter wouldn’t paint.
“Eileen ran down the block, looking frantically in people’s windows,” Schlesinger continues. “A few houses away, she spotted a man sipping tea in his first floor apartment. She pounded on his window , unheard of in New York , causing him to look up, stunned. Then she negotiated four towels at $20 each.”
With booty in hand, McComb raced back down the block, laughing, Schlesinger says, at the extent to which public relations people will go “to make our jobs work.”
Culp sponsors the annual WorkWise Award. For information, visit (www.work-wise.com).
& #352;2000 Universal Press Syndicate