Case Study 11.1 – TATA’S HANDLING OF THE MUMBAI TERRORIST ATTACKS
Tata, a global group of companies headquartered in India, operates in seven business sectors: communications and information technology, engineering, materials, services, energy, consumer products and chemicals. The group operates in more than 80 countries across six continents, with 58 per cent of its revenues coming from business outside of India. Well-known companies within the group include Tata Steel, Tata Motors, Tata Consultancy services, Tata Tea and Taj Hotels. Whilst Tata has been around for more than a century, it was only recently that its chairman, Ratan Tata, steered the company into international expansion. Using an aggressive strategy, it has invested over 3 billion dollars in 19 acquisitions worldwide. Ratan Tata explained his strategy as follows: 'what we are attempting is simply a greater internationalization of our business. Where This thrust is different from the past is that it goes beyond exports. We will want to be a part of the community in which we operate.'
Whilst its size, turnover and operations mark Tata as an international corporation, the company is still firmly rooted in its Indian heritage and culture. From the inception of the group, the Tata family has, through philanthropy and human resource practices, cared for the plight of Indian workers and their families. The company provides, for example, medical aid and social benefits to its employees. The emphasis on growth in recent years has also not come at the expense of the company's commitment to its employees. The company invests heavily in training and development programmes and in strong corporate communications to develop a distinctive, yet cohesive culture across its companies and the entire group.
The Mumbai Terrorist Attacks
The group's Indian heritage and commitment to its employees also shines through in the way in which the company dealt with one of the most difficult chapters in its history: the 26/11 terrorist attacks on Mumbai and the Taj Hotel in the city. They began on 26 November 2008 and lasted for more than 60 hours, killing 166 people and wounding at least 308. The Taj Hotel formed the scene for a number of explosions and the terrorists held a number of guests and hotel staff hostage on site. The choice of target was significant; besides being a place for the rich and famous in India, the hotel also formed the jewel in the crown of the Tata hotel chain. The Taj was also the worst hit of all the targeted locations. It was under siege for three days, with the terrorists indiscriminately shooting guests and taking them hostage on the premises. During the events, staff tried to evacuate as many guests as possible via the back entrance and via fire exits. However, as events were televised live around the world, the terrorists also got a direct news feed on the escape attempts of the hotel guests. When the security, forces arrived and took over the handling of the hotel, one of the first things they did was to restrict access and news coverage by the media.
As the security operation went on, the group chairman, Ratan Tata, and the CEO of the Tata hotel chain, Raymond Bickson, openly communicated with the media. For example, on 27 November, following the initial attacks, the following message by Ratan Tata was issued to the media:
The terrible wanton attacks last night on innocent people and the destruction of prominent landmarks in India deserve to be universally condemned. My sympathies and condolences go out to all those who have suffered, been injured, and those who have lost their loved ones in this terrible act of hatred and destruction. We cannot replace the lives that have been lost and we will never forget the terrifying events of last night, but we must stand together, shoulder to shoulder as citizens of India, and rebuild what has been destroyed. We must show that we cannot be disabled or destroyed, but that such [a] heinous act will only make us stronger. It is important that we do not allow divisive forces to weaken us. We need to overcome these forces as one strong unified nation.
Both Ratan Tata and Raymond Bickson provided continuous updates to the media on the security operation, and responded to rumours about the terrorist motives and the targeting of the hotel. Questions were also raised in the media about the security measures of the hotel. Ratan Tata went on record saying that whilst security measures had been implemented, 'if I look at what we had ... it could not have stopped what took place'. He also singled out the courageous efforts of his staff, who helped guests to evacuate and in doing so helped to avoid a much greater loss of life. Whilst over 700 guests were booked into the hotel, the number of deceased totalled 31. According to one employee, the main reason why they had been able to stay alert and calm during those 60 hours was their training and the endless fire drills that they had been forced to go through as part of hotel policy.
The entire security operation within the hotel and across Mumbai officially ended on 29 November and the hotel was handed back to the Tata group on 1 December. The decision was taken, and announced almost immediately, that the hotel would be restored to its former glory and re-opened a mere three weeks later on 21 December. To accomplish this, the management team initiated a clean-up and restoration of the hotel, but also realized that a significant part of the operation would be to provide care to its employees and manage customer perceptions. Employees had to be rehabilitated and supported with counselling to deal with the traumatic events. Customers also had to be assured again that the hotel would be secure and safe, and would, in effect, be offering the same level of service as before.
One important step was that security was tightened at the hotel. The hotel restricted access to official guests, and X-ray scans and metal detectors were used by security personnel to check everyone coming into the building. Ratan Tata also told the media that new security measures were put in place as a way of thwarting any attacks. When the hotel re-opened, a select group of long-time supporters and guests booked in and a memorial service was held for hotel staff who had lost their lives in the tragedy. Key to the image restoration with customers were the Taj staff themselves and the way in which they had gone out of their way to save guests during the tragedy. The heart breaking story of Karambir Singh Kang, the Taj Mumbai's general manager, touched the hearts of millions around the world. He was a key part of the evacuation effort and had worked tirelessly to get guests out of the building, even after realizing that the fire that had broken out on the sixth floor of the hotel had killed his own family. His story became a 'symbol' for the valour and customer focus of the hotel's employees.
The Aftermath of the Crisis
The Tata group arranged for counsellors to meet with staff and set up trauma camps to help staff get through their emotions and anxieties following the traumatic events. Families of the deceased members of staff were provided with compensation packages and the last drawn salaries were paid out as a life-long pension of the company. Children of the deceased were provided with education allowances to ensure that they would be able to study wherever in the world the, chose. Permanent jobs were also given to family members of five employees who had been the only breadwinners for their families.
The company furthermore set up a trust to provide direct aid to those affected by the terrorist attacks and to support those affected by similar events in the future. The trust initially provided direct relief to all those affected by the attacks, including its own employees but also police officers, fire fighters and security guards. It also got records of the 170 people killed in the attacks and the 400 who were injured. In turn, the trust contacted all the individuals directly affected, as well as their families, and conducted a needs assessment study to determine the psychological and financial requirements of those affected. Initially, it decided to cover all individuals in the city who were from the lowest strata of society and had received no support from the government. The support that the trust gave came in the form of a monthly subsistence allowance, depending on the number of children in the family; support towards the education of the 62 children of the terror victims; micro-finance support and sustenance to help victims set up businesses; and, finally, vocational and sustainable livelihood training for dependents and the injured. The vice-president for human resources for the Taj hotel chain explains the latter support as follows:
The subsistence allowance is not meant to be a lifetime pension. We therefore identify one or two people in the family and train them in vocational skills such as tailoring, driving, baking and confectionery, and housekeeping. The Taj offers a three- to four-month course to impart these skills. Once the course ends, many of the trainees will be hired by the Taj on compassionate grounds. Others can easily find employment in Mumbai or the suburbs owing to the training they have received from the Taj. We want to ensure we are able to create and build sustainable livelihoods for these families before we stop the subsistence allowance.
In this way, the trust aims to help the victims of the Mumbai attacks and also pledges to help others who will be affected by similar events such as terrorist attacks and natural disasters in India in the future.
1.) The Tata group was very clear with their communication both inside with the employees, and outside with the media and the world both during the event and after the crisis. THrough this communication, they were able to relay the information that they were prepared for bad situations, but an incident of this scale was enough to shake preparations of any hotel or organization. The training that was given to the employees helped save a lot of damage and even the employees shared their experience of management having them already prepared with fire drills to tackle situations like these.
The management supported their employees after the crisis in all possible ways and also tried every bit to reassure their customers of the security measures installed after the event to make sure an event like this was never possible again.
Tata group Spokesperson, Ratan Tata was very open to discuss with the media the changes they were going to implement after the incident. And also they collected a lot of data to instantly make sure all the people who were impacted by this incident were helped in every possible way throughout mumbai.
Thus, I believe the company not just followed a perfect crisis communication strategy, rather provided an extended hand of support to everyone who in any way was impacted.
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