01 Mar 2018
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Ask the Expert: Disaster Master

Helping companies pick up the pieces
Re: Karan Gupta (GMP 18); Maxeme Tuchman (MBA 2012); Boris Tsimerinov (PLDA 16)
by Julia Hanna

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photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images News

“Fast” and “unexpected” are two words Adrian Beer (OPM 31, 2002) uses to describe his work as CEO of GrupoBeer, a Madrid-based corporation providing post-disaster services such as building decontamination and restoration of electronic equipment, machinery, and documents to businesses around the world for nearly 30 years. “We have a natural tendency as humans to neglect low-probability events, even if the impact is very high,” he says. “The most basic analogy is the difficulty some people have in thinking about life insurance, inheritance issues, or, in the business world, succession planning.”

Yet the impact and frequency of disasters has increased, Beer notes, making it even more important for businesses to integrate disaster preparedness into daily operations: “The vulnerability of companies is more acute than it once was due to a much higher value concentration; there’s been such a focus on efficiency that there are way fewer redundancies in a company’s production capacity and inventories,” says Beer, who offers insight and advice to alumni seeking guidance in unprecedented circumstances.

How do you train your employees to prepare for the unexpected? What kind of internal communication exists for perfect coordination?
—Karan Gupta (GMP 18, 2015)

BEER: Companies can be prepared by having a crisis management team and established communication protocols in place, as well as conducting disaster-scenario analyses. In every case, you learn something new, which shows that you can’t create a computerized system with all the answers, not yet. There are human factors and emotions involved beyond the probability statistics. But that’s what makes this work fascinating—otherwise we would have robots running our companies, right?

When it comes to preparing for a disaster, what percentage of time should be spent on proactive vs. reactive activities?
—Maxeme Tuchman (MBA 2012)

BEER: It’s difficult to break it down in terms of percentage, because it’s so dependent on the industry and risk exposure. Essentially, any company has to balance short-term objectives with long-term sustainability. The probability of disaster is relatively low, but the impact can be very significant, so you definitely have to be proactive by building awareness of risk, conducting annual risk assessments, and establishing a crisis management team. Those are three “musts” for any well-managed company. In terms of reactive activities, once a disaster has occurred you need the right people to support you from the legal, communication, and process recovery perspectives, because you don’t want to go through that learning curve by yourself.

How do you reduce the degree to which client crises spill into the culture of your business and personal life?
—Boris Tsimerinov (PLDA 16, 2017)

BEER: We’re like firefighters or ER doctors in the sense that we have to deal with high-pressure situations without taking it too personally. It does help that our job is more technical in nature—we don’t see casualties so often—but it does take special individuals who are motivated as much by the results of their work as any monetary compensation. They know that they can get a call saying, “Pack your bags. You’re taking a three-hour flight tonight and will be working over Christmas.” What is most important in these situations is that you have a well-balanced team you can rely on so that there’s not too much pressure on any one individual. I think that’s a relevant takeaway for any situation.

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