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Managing the unthinkable: After Mumbai

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in Best-Practices Leadership,Leaders & Managers

In late 2008, terrorists killed 166 people across Mumbai, India, in coordinated attacks. At the Taj Mahal, a landmark hotel, 12 employees and 20 guests died.

H.N. Shrinivas, senior vice president of human resources for Taj Hotel Group in Mumbai, arranged for nearly 1,700 employees to attend meetings with trained counselors soon after the tragedy. He tells Managing People at Work how workers regrouped and gained strength from each other.

MPAW: After the siege, what was your top priority?

Shrinivas: We wanted to give our employees a chance to talk about what happened and deal with their fear and anxiety. By doing this, it allowed for the purging of toxins from their system.

MPAW: So they rebounded from this terrible event?

Shrinivas: About 90 percent of them got back to normal after group meetings where everyone had a chance to ask questions and share thoughts. Others experienced sleep difficulties and repeatedly asked the same questions—a kind of anxiety syndrome that they eventually worked through.

MPAW: Did many employees quit?

Shrinivas: No. We retained our people because we gave them so much support.

One of them said, “My father wants me to move out of Mumbai.” But we assured this employee that his father’s concern was based on fear—and we addressed that fear.

MPAW: But fear is an understandable response.

Shrinivas: Yes, but fear isn’t the only response. When terrorists stormed a hotel restaurant, the manager was out. So an employee took charge. Within 30 seconds, he demonstrated amazing courage by evacuating guests and oth-er employees. As he was the last to climb down the staircase, the terrorists killed him.

MPAW: A true hero.

Shrinivas: When our chairman [Ratan Tata] met with his widow, she told him, “I’m proud my husband saved close to 100 people. We’ll follow his example all our lives.” Then she broke down and said, “I never knew I lived with such a great man for 22 years.”

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