Los Angeles Times, The Sunday Book Review
Crisis Management: Planning for the Inevitable

Reviewed by Ian I. Mitroff

Every major executive in America ought to read at least one book on crisis management. In this way, he or she might be better prepared to deal with the disasters striking organizations at an ever-increasing rate: product tampering (Tylenol), product defects (Rely Tampon), industrial catastrophes (Union Carbide in Bhopal), financial crises (Ohio S&Ls). The question is, "Is Steven Fink's book one that busy executives should read?" The answer is a resounding yes.

Fink's book could not be more timely. The space shuttle disaster is still fresh in our memory. The deep hurt it has left will not be easily healed. And as if to illustrate the fact that tragedies now occur so frequently they leave almost no recovery time between them, Johnson and Johnson, the maker of Tylenol, has just suffered its second major trauma. J&J must be feeling like a cancer patient who thought the dreaded disease had been licked two years ago only to have it recur.

Fink's book is well-written; it reads almost like a novel. It contains fascinating in-depth stories and analyses of such major disaster as Three Mile Island, Bhopal and the first Tylenol crisis.

Most important, it offers much-needed practical advice on what to do before, during and after a major crisis. For instance, Fink notes that before most disasters occur, there are warning signals -- what he calls prodromes, from the Greek for "running before." If one can "read," better yet, be constantly alert for prodromes, then one has mastered one of the key lessons of crisis management.

Fink's book is valuable because he addresses clearly such vital issues as how to set up a crisis management unit, how it should function, to whom it should report, who should staff it.

He also demonstrates the effectiveness of crisis planning through some powerful figures. Apparently those corporations that engage in crisis management recover about 2½ times faster than those that do not. The reason is not that crises follow one's plans perfectly. On the contrary, actual crises always deviate from the best-laid plans.

But crisis management better prepares one to roll with the punches. One has, in effect worked through three critical emotions -- denial, anger and depression -- which, if not attended to before a crisis strikes, can be immobilizing.

Fink's book is important if only for pointing out that the worst can and will happen to any organization. It is no longer a question of if, but when and how many will be affected. The most critical lesson is this: Even though one cannot prevent all tragedies, something can be done to blunt their effects.

Ian Mitroff is the Harold Quinton Distinguished Professor of business policy at USC.

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