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After deadly outbreak, a gutsy rebound

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in Leaders & Managers,Leadership Skills

Founded in 1927, Maple Leaf Foods enjoyed a long run of success as a Canadian food processing company. But in 2008, some of the firm’s luncheon meats proved deadly.

Due to a contaminated Maple Leaf plant in Toronto, a Listeria bacteria outbreak claimed 21 lives. CEO Michael McCain suddenly faced a huge crisis.

The media firestorm that resulted from the outbreak caused sales to plummet. Maple Leaf’s reputation took a severe hit.

But McCain opted for transparency. He promptly took responsibility for the situation. Facing the media, he held himself accountable for the problem—and for finding a solution.

He didn’t just express sympathy to the victims and then disappear for weeks at a time. Instead, he took proactive steps to update the public on Maple Leaf’s actions and ongoing findings.

During his company’s investigation of what went wrong at the plant, McCain explained the steps his team took to find answers. At no point did he leave the public wondering, “What’s going on?”

He didn’t just rely on TV and radio interviews to communicate his company’s rapid response. He also harnessed social media, including YouTube, to expand the reach of his message.

Once McCain identified the source of the contamination, he overhauled Maple Leaf’s internal plant cleaning and safety protocols. More importantly, he told the public that his company would exceed governmental standards by voluntarily adopting even more stringent policies.

As a result, McCain used the crisis to raise the bar on food safety standards across Canada. Maple Leaf has regained its reputation as a quality food provider.

— Adapted from Redefining Operational Excellence, Andrew Miller, AMACOM.

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