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Crisis Leadership Update

Qatar subject women to invasive searches, toddlers escape day care, and Holgate pushed from Australia Post


Australia Post leadership turmoil

Currently, most company directors are consumed by decision-making to best protect their organisations from threats emerging from the pandemic. However, recent Government intervention into the leadership of Australia Post has surely provided the organisation’s Board of Directors unprecedented challenges. In one strike, the Prime Minister has taken Australia Post CEO, Christine Holgate, from small business hero to the recipient of external pressure to resign … which is what she has ultimately done.

Holgate has resigned amid an investigation into her corporate spending, which came to a head when knowledge that four Cartier watches worth $20,000 had been given as gifts to key executives. A fact that came as a surprise to Communications Minister Paul Fletcher and Prime Minister Scott Morrison when raised at Senate Estimates last month.

Interestingly, there is a good chance that the Prime Minister was not aware of all the circumstances. Specifically, that the watches had not been given during the pandemic but two years earlier; that there had been a board mandate for a small reward for the four execs for boosting profit by $100m and helping save 3000 small businesses; and that a board member was present when the gifts were given.

Trebuchet Pivot comments. There is so much to unpack in this issue, with plenty to consider. Here are some of our key points:

  • External stakeholders can put extraordinary pressure on executive teams and boards - none more so than elected officials. How can they best be managed?

  • Boards are responsible for succession planning and must be prepared for a chaotic exit of their chief executive. This has now happened twice in three years at Australia Post following Ahmed Fahours resignation in 2017.

  • Holgate has resigned, admitting that her decision to reward employees with Cartier watches did not pass the "pub test". But with board endorsement of executive rewards, how can organisations measure the ethics of staff bonuses and gifts to ensure they are appropriate?

Where is this ‘pub’, and how do we get the bar fly’s views on the appropriateness of employee gifts?


Qatar ‘regrets distress’

Women from up to 10 flights transiting through Qatar subjected to invasive searches.

The horrific series of events started when a baby was found born prematurely and abandoned in a garbage bin at the Hamad International Airport. The Airport then conducted vaginal examinations of women from transiting flights to determine if they had given birth to the infant.

Knowledge of the incident was triggered by the reporting of forced physical examinations of female passengers bound for Sydney. This triggered international outrage, and the Australian Government has formally denounced the searches as inappropriate and beyond circumstances in which the women could give free and informed consent. Human rights activists say such exams conducted under duress amount to sexual assault.

Qatar Airways released an apology stating the incident was the first of its kind at the airport, and was "wholly inconsistent with Qatar's culture and values". Yet in Qatar, sex and childbirth outside of marriage are illegal, and migrant workers have been known to hide pregnancies and travel abroad to give birth. There have been reports of past incidents where babies have been anonymously abandoned to avoid imprisonment.

This event has rightfully spiraled into a public relations catastrophe for Qatar Airways and the Hamad International Airport. The Qatar Government reacted by releasing a statement calling the searches "violations and illegal actions” and declaring a special task force was reviewing procedures and protocols at the airport.

Trebuchet Pivot Comments.

  • While the airport staff appear responsible for the incident, there may be long term brand damage implications for Qatar Airways who have struggled to distance themselves from the incident.

  • This is a classic example of how the actions of several staff can have wide-reaching consequences for an entire country. The small gas-rich state on the Arabian Peninsula will be host to the 2022 FIFA World Cup. If not seen to make substantial and wide-ranging reform, this incident may deter many western travellers from attending.

The only good news to come from this story is the reporting that the baby, while still unidentified, remains “safe under the professional care of medical and social workers”


Okee Dokee escape

Any parents guts would churn at the thought of their toddler absconding from day care unnoticed and running towards a busy main road. A similar reaction would surely be true for any director or manager of a day care centre when this had happened on their watch. Yet this is exactly what happened recently at the Okee Dokee Early childhood care centre on the Gold Coast. Thankfully, the two children were stopped by members of the public before any harm could come to them.

Trebuchet Pivot Comments. This is a sobering reminder for all organisations that they have a legal and moral responsibility to protect those under their charge. But it also raises some other points to consider:

  • Are your practices legal, effective and appropriate to best ensure you live up to your duty of care obligations?

  • If your organisation was responsible for such an incident – are you prepared to weather the storm, scrutinise and amend your processes, reassure all stakeholders, manage staff through the inevitable investigations, rebuild trust, communicate effectively, and learn from your mistakes?


Trebuchet Pivot

In times of uncertainty exceptional leadership, comprehensive planning and clear-eyed decision-making are critical to protect your organisations’ people, operations, assets, reputation and value. Trebuchet Pivot provides the insights and experience needed to address potential threats faced by boards and executive teams as they lead their organisations into the next decade and beyond.

How we assist:

  • ensuring risks are fully contextualised or conceptualised

  • risk treatment strategies are fully appreciated and operationalised

  • building a culture where your leadership is prepared for the realisation of key strategic risks

  • comprehensive training to guide leadership teams to ensure timely, transparent and appropriate decisions, when the unexpected occurs

  • strategy development for emerging incidents

  • response support in the event of a crisis

  • independent audit of existing crisis management and business continuity plans

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