Story View Breweries: When it is difficult to say it as it is.
Jacob Lawson is the General Manager (Public Sector Relations) of Story View Breweries which makes a range of alcoholic beverages that are market leaders. His managerial portfolio makes him responsible for relating with government regulatory agencies and environmental bodies.
His job requires him to ensure that the company meets all statutory and industrial regulations; in factory operations, safety and maintenance; in work processes and environmental standards.
On this Thursday afternoon, Lawson sauntered into his office with a noticeable drag in his footsteps, deep in thought, eyes glazed and a worried expression on his face as he wobbled past his Secretary straight to his office. She had never seen her boss look so pale. “Something must be bothering him,” she thought.
As she made to speak to him when he sank into his swinging executive chair, he waved her away, a clear signal that he wanted to be alone to think of a way out of the dilemma facing him.
Lawson bowed his head, deep in thought his head cupped in his hands. Slowly he raised his head and looked at the chart hanging on the wall directly opposite his table. Boldly inscribed on the chart were Story View’s core values in three points namely: Communicate Truthfully, Tell Your Value Stories Always and Drink and Be Happy.
Story View thrives on storytelling to promote good work ethics, integrity and teamwork. It operates a corporate policy that demands strict adherence to international standards and statutory regulations. This policy has helped the company to maintain a good corporate image and a clean and safe environment for its host communities.
Lawson had just come from the CEOs office with a clear instruction to get the factory ready for a scheduled visit by the government’s environment protection agency for on-the-spot assessment of the company’s water treatment plant. .
The visitors are acting on a protest letter sent by a pressure group known as “Go Alcohol” which is part of a global movement that is averse to alcohol production and sales and its impact on public safety.
Go Alcohol maintains constant surveillance on the operations of all breweries in the country especially with regard to environmental pollution. It periodically sends scouts to host communities of breweries to pick up any complaints or violations of environmental regulations or destruction of economic crops and plant and aquatic life especially in streams and rivers that provide rural dwellers drinking water.
In their last check, Go Alcohol established cases of environmental breaches against Story View and promptly sent protest letters to the environmental agency. The letter was even leaked to the media creating bad press for the brewery. That spelt trouble for the company which had always prided itself as a responsible corporate citizen.
Two management meetings were held to prepare for the visit. Roles and responsibilities were shared for the company to be prepared to tell a good story and exonerate itself from the allegations.
Besides inspecting the water treatment, the visitors requested to see recorded operational data of the plant in terms of discharge of waste water. If the grounds of the protests were established to be true, the brewery risked being sealed off and a heavy fine imposed on it. This was a make or mar visitation and the lot fell on Lawson to co-ordinate the preparations in all the affected departments to tell their value stories.
The company’s CEO, Don Michaels had never comprised on meeting statutory and international environmental standards since he assumed leadership of the company three years ago. A new water treatment plant had been commissioned and all seemed well for their environmental records and safety standards. But this was not to last.
Two tragedies hit the brewery and weakened its standards. The wife of the Treatment Plant manager, Rex King, 38, died in a plane crash in December 2005 leaving behind three young children aged 18 months-5 years for Rex to cater for. He was shattered and underwent severe emotional trauma which affected his job. He underwent series of psychological counseling to regain balance. He did, but his work suffered. The treatment plants began to operate below par. Maintenance schedules were no longer followed and faulty plant components were not replaced as at when due.
The second tragedy was that Wonder Technologies who had a maintenance contract for the plants was hit by financial distress. The treatment plants suffered and the waste water discharged from the brewery polluted the nearby village streams denying indigenes of safe drinking water. Besides, the bore hole sunk by Story View for the community had broken down needing repairs. But Jacob Lawson had been choked with a heavy work load that he had no time to address the problem.
Residents of the community cried out and Go Alcohol picked the signals, verified the pollutions and sent out protest letters. Meanwhile, Michaels, the CEO was not aware that the treatment plants were suffering. He had asked King and Lawson to furnish him weekly reports but his recent trips abroad for a major foreign investment in the company kept him away from the company for weeks. His deputy was overseeing the execution of a new malting project and so for six months, all environmental matters ended on Lawson’s table until Go Alcohol sprang a surprise.
The visit of the environmental regulator was at short notice, in the next seven days. Lawson was given the mandate: Get the treatment plants ready and update all records for inspection. And so this Thursday afternoon, the CEO had called Lawson to his office for situation report. Lawson assured him that all was well except for a minor leak in the waste water tank which can be fixed next day. “Then fix it and give me the latest on Monday,” instructed the CEO.
But Lawson was economical with the truth. The treatment plant was in bad shape and the records in the past four months had fallen below regulatory standards. That was bad news. If he tells the CEO the true story, his job was on the line. But his worst fear was what will befall the company if he says it as it is to the visitors. That was Lawson’s frame of mind as he walked into his office. There is a way out, he thought. He could easily alter the plant records and get Wonder Technologies to repair the broken down unit. Unknown to him, Wonder’s bankers were in distress. On the other hand, he could get another company to do it. Nobody would know. But the company policy outlaws such fire brigade approach. What would he do?
He raised his head and his eyes fell on the company’s core values hanging on the wall again. “Communicate truthfully always.” If he tells the true story, he would be fired. He thought of his wife and children, especially the teenagers in the university. If you were Lawson, what would you do?
NB: This is corporate storytelling and an ideal case study for managers in a workshop or MBA students. Copyright is vested on the author. Do not use without permission of copyright owner. You can send enquiries for similar case studies to firstname.lastname@example.org
Eric Okeke is a storyteller, editor, business writer, motivational speaker and author of the best selling book: I Want a Husband. He is one of Nigeria’s most experienced financial journalists. He has published several articles in local and foreign publications and in websites such as http://www.ezinearticles.com, www.ezinearticles.com and www.writingcareer.com. He is currently running Infomedia Company, a media consulting and information marketing company. Visit his blog at http://sallywantsahusband.blogspot.com