Don’t run from a crisis

It seems unfair to pick on BP’s under- fire chief exec Tony Hayward again,
and this ar ticle isn’t meant to do that – but it provides a wonder ful case in
point on a number of levels.

On a personal basis I have to say that I think he is doing as good a job as
anyone can do when working with a horrible situation under the scrutiny of the
full force of the media and US political environment. But that’s why he gets
paid a lot of money and we have to hope he is wor th it.

However, I wanted to demonstrate a point about the over whelming desire to
run from a problem – and why that’s not necessarily the right thing to do.
Imagine you work for BP. Now imagine that you find yourself working for the US
business in a finance role that gives you a degree of exposure to the issues BP
are currently working with.

Imagine that you have a choice to return to the UK and a safe head of fice
role, or stay and help sor t the situation out. I’ve had this conversation with
a large number of finance candidates and its alarming how many people would jump
on a plane to London.

I understand why – working in the middle of a crisis is hard. You are
exposed, the hours are long, its tense and there is no guarantee of success.
When I speak to people who have had a stellar career and ask them what the most
instructive period was, time and time again they talk about a crisis that they
were involved in. And the same line keeps coming up: “Of course it was no fun at
all going through it but when I look back, I had five years’ experience in 12

What they tend to mean when they say this is that experience gained in the
heat of battle is wor th a lot more than training, and a crisis is a battle. Ask

Cranking the handle and grinding out the results is useful of course and
teaches you a number of things, but a year spent in crisis is worth several of
steady state. As an added incentive, CEOs like seeing people who have spent some
time dealing with issues. A completely clean CV does not give the same level of
confidence as one where people have dealt with something hairy.

So, next time you are asked to choose between a crisis and an easy life,
maybe you should enter the lion’s den. You will build up points internally and
you will develop credibility externally.

Mark Freebairn is a partner at Odgers Berndtson

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