A Few Key Learnings from 2010

1. No matter how hard we have it, someone else has it worse. Remember the British Petroleum oil spill disaster in the Gulf of Mexico off the coast of Louisiana? For about three months, oil gushed unchecked into the Gulf of Mexico and images of devastated wildlife and oil-slicked beaches were publicized around the world.

The oil spill is considered by many experts as the worst environmental disaster ever in the United States. Tony Hayward, former Chief Executive Officer of British Petroleum, said in April to fellow British Petroleum executives, “What the hell did we do to deserve this?” Ironically, environmentalists and the families who lost loved ones in the explosion could ask the same question. On May 31, 2010, Hayward told reporters, “The first thing to say is I’m sorry.” However, he continued, “We’re sorry for the massive disruption it’s caused their lives. There’s no one who wants this over more than I do. I would like my life back.”

2. You can’t underestimate the power of good public relations. Tone-deaf, Tony Hayward probably set new standards for public relations disasters. But a close runner up was Hewlett-Packard and its former CEO, Mark Hurd. In August, the HP board condemned the exec for authorizing over $75,000 in compensation to Jodie Fisher, a former adult film actress who was hired to do marketing work for the company. Hurd abruptly resigned, but left the company with another PR crisis. It came to light that Fisher, who accused Hurd of sexual harassment, also alleged that Hurd informed her about a major HP acquisition before it was announced.

If that’s not enough, far crazier was the way that HP handled the entire debacle, leaving hundreds of unanswered questions to be explored relentlessly in the press, exposing a board of directors in great turmoil. In late August, it was slapped with a shareholder lawsuit for “gross mismanagement.” In the end, the board cleared Hurd of any sexual harassment charges. Hurd settled with Fisher and even landed a nice little job at HP rival, Oracle. At HP, meanwhile, what remained was mounting legal bills and the bitter taste of Hurd’s awkward departure, not to mention a fall from grace in the public eye.

3. You can’t control Mother Nature. Despite great planning and great foresight, life can and does hand us a curve ball! For example, who knew that an ancient volcano in Iceland named Eyjafjallajökull, would erupt and cause complete chaos throughout the world. Volcanic ash turned day into night and grounded flights, stranded travelers, and cost individuals and businesses money, time, and effort, not to mention heartbreaks when lives were disrupted and once-in-a-lifetime events were missed. There was an unprecedented number of flight cancellations, more than 100,000 between April 15 and 21, affected millions of travelers, and the fallout by all accounts, cost the airline industry alone approximately USD$1.7 billion. And more recently, snow and blizzards resulted in a total disruption of and halt of travel plans in the US and Europe, up to and during the Christmas holiday period, with flights cancelled and travel in cars and on trains, impossible.

4. There’s always a light at the end of the tunnel. The world shared the in the grief and horror of the Chilean miners who were trapped 2,000 feet below the surface in a collapsed mine; and was united in its elation when the 33 miners were miraculously rescued after being trapped for 69 days. For the first 17 days, all miners were believed to be dead.
But in mid-October, after 69 days trapped below the earth, one by one, each miner was brought to the surface and was welcomed by family and friends. There was an overwhelming out-pouring of love throughout the world.

One of the miners, 63-year-old Mario Gomez, was brought to the surface breathing from an oxygen mask. Gomez had worked as a miner for 50 years. After he was helped out of the escape capsule, he immediately dropped to his knees to pray. “I never lost faith that they would find us,” he said. Esteban Rojas also knelt and prayed on arrival. The 44-year-old had promised to wed his wife formally in church if he got out alive, to seal their civil marriage.

U.S. President Barack Obama hailed the rescue operation as an inspiration to the world and stated, “This rescue is a tribute not only to the determination of the rescue workers and the Chilean government but also the unity and resolve of the Chilean people who have inspired the world”.

So, here’s to learning and growing and to a better and brighter 2011! Happy New Year!

About Brenda Fields

Brenda is a sales and marketing specialist in the hospitality member. An industry leader and highly accredited, Brenda is a member of International Society of Hospitality Consultants, is Past President of HSMAI in NYC, served on the Americas Board of Directors for Hospitality Sales & Marketing Association International, , was named one of the “Top 25 Most Extraordinary Minds in Sales and Marketing”, by HSMAI , serves on the editorial board of HotelExecutive.com, and writes for numerous industry publications.
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