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Leadership in Crisis through the Lens of a Student [Emily Stall]

Leadership in Crisis through the Lens of a Student [Emily Stall]

Leadership in Crisis through the Lens of a Student [Emily Stall]

Communication is Key

by Emily Stall

Nine classmates and I entered a classroom at NYU Stern on Saturday morning. At that moment, we were no longer MBA students–we were members of the executive team of Emerson, a multinational manufacturing company headquartered in Missouri. Before entering the classroom, Dr. Larry Barton had explained to us that we would be dealing with a crisis at one of Emerson’s plants in Nuevo Laredo, Mexico, a city dominated by a major drug cartel. Our team entered the room a little nervous, a little excited, and very unsure about what to expect.

Immediately after introducing ourselves to the three judges in the room, the phone rang. Our CEO picked up the phone, and then handed it to me–whoever it was wanted to speak to the Chief Human Resources Officer. When I picked up the phone, I heard screaming in the background and other loud noises. A hushed voice frantically asked me for help.

“I’m under my desk at the plant in Nuevo Laredo. There’s a shooter in the building. Two people are already dead… I don’t know where to go. Please help!”

Stunned, I put down the phone and relayed the information to my team. The panic in the caller’s voice made me forget that I was at school, in the same classroom where I took Financial Accounting, doing a simulation. Lives were on the line, and it was up to my team to handle this emergency.

My team and I worked together frantically, trying to determine who we should call and who we could trust. The phone continued to ring throughout the process–more people from inside the plant, investors demanding to know how this would impact our stock price, reporters asking for more information, family members wanting to know if their loved ones were safe. Press releases were brought into the room continuously, with reports from around the world, often citing conflicting information.  At one point we realized that the CNN feed playing on the wall had breaking news about the situation on the lower scroll, mixed in with real life current events.

In the middle of the chaos, we were pulled into a different classroom for a press release. A podium was set up with the Emerson logo and several microphone, with cameras flashing. A panel of five reporters barked questions at our VP of Communications, who stood at the podium with impressive grace and poise. It was at this point that I realized one of the biggest challenges for our executive team was not necessarily solving the crisis. Being in Missouri, with the events happening miles away in Mexico, there was only so much we could do to mitigate the crisis. The most impact we could have was finding the right people who could help in Mexico, but we couldn’t control the situation directly. One thing we could control, however, was how we communicated what was happening to our employees, their families, our investors, and the press.

When Connie, the Senior Director of Leadership Development, came into the room to tell us that the simulation was over, we almost unanimously shouted “but we’re not done yet!”. We were in the midst of writing a press release outlining what had happened and what steps we were taking next, and it finally felt like we were making progress and coming together as a team. Then, I felt a sigh of relief to realize that I was, in fact, still a student at Stern and not a Chief Human Resources Officer of a multinational corporation dealing with terrorist infiltration.

The simulation is one of the most memorable experiences I’ve had at Stern. All of the volunteers made the experience incredibly realistic and the debrief with our judges, who have dealt with real-life crises, was invaluable. I know that I will remember this simulation for a long time and I hope to have more opportunities in the future to practice dealing with such a challenging situation.


About the Author

Emily Stall is a first year MBA Candidate at NYU Stern, specializing in Marketing, Strategy, & Leadership and Change Management. Emily grew up in Montgomery, NJ and graduated from Drexel University in 2013 with a BS in Design & Merchandising. Prior to pursuing her MBA, she worked at Bloomingdale’s for four years in the Merchant Executive Development Program. This summer, she will be interning at American Express in the Global Commercial Payments group.

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