CASE A: Underwater Chaos (Decision-Making)
It would be a claustrophobic’s worst nightmare—trapped subsea in the 31-mile Eurotunnel beneath the English channel on the Eurostar train that travels between Britain and the European mainland.36 A series of breakdowns on five London-bound trains from Brussels, which began December 18, 2009, left more than 2,000 passengers stranded for up to 16 hours. Many of those passengers trapped in the dark and overheated tunnel endured serious distress. “Parents had to remove their children’s clothes, leaving them in underwear and diapers. Some passengers suffered stress and panic attacks. Others started feeling ill due to the heat.” Was this just an unfortunate incident for the unlucky passengers who happened to be on those trains or did poor managerial decision making about the operation of both the train and the channel tunnel also play a role?
An independent review of the incident blamed Eurostar and the operator of the tunnel for being unprepared for severe winter weather. The report said that Eurostar had failed to adequately maintain and winterize its high-speed trains to protect sensitive components from malfunctioning due to excessive snow and moisture buildup. At the time of the Eurostar train breakdowns, severe winter weather had been wreaking havoc on Europe. Airlines, car and truck drivers, and other rail operators across Europe were also suffering from a winter that was on course to be the coldest in more than 30 years. Freezing weather and snow had caused travel problems for days in Northern Europe. In addition, the report criticized Eurotunnel (the operator of the channel tunnel) for having unsatisfactory communications systems in place inside the tunnel, which could have given its employees direct contact with train drivers and other Eurostar staff. “If a train breaks down and passengers have to be rescued and evacuated, this must be done with greater speed and consideration. In an emergency, passengers need to have prompt information and regular updates.”
Although the severe weather conditions undoubtedly played a role in this fiasco, there’s no doubt that managers could have done a better job of making decisions in preparing for such scenarios.
1) What’s your reaction to this story? What does it illustrate about decision-making? What could other organizations learn from this incident? Evaluate.
2) Why is decision-making often described as the essence of a manager’s job?
CASE B: Green Apple on Aisle Two (Green Management)
It’s probably the last company that you’d think of as going green. As the world’s largest retailer with more than 8,400 stores globally, Walmart moves massive amounts of products and uses massive amounts of power and other resources to operate its business. But it’s also striving to transform itself into a company that’s seen as environmentally friendly. That’s why the company’s announcement that it would cut some 20 million metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions from its supply chain—the equivalent of removing more than 3.8 million cars from the road for a year—got widespread attention. This announcement came a few months after the company said that it would be creating a sustainability index of just how green its products are. The first part of Walmart’s three-phase plan was getting information from its more than 100,000 suppliers using a 15-question survey about their greenhouse gas emissions, water and solid waste reduction efforts, and other details about business practices. That information was received by October 2009, and the second-phase process of entering it into a massive database began. The third phase involves getting all that data eventually condensed into an easily understood universal rating system, similar to a nutrition label but focused on details about environmental and social sustainability. However, it’s likely that this effort won’t be complete until 2013.
This isn’t the company’s first push toward being green. Walmart has started many environmental initiatives in recent years including improving the efficiency of its truck fleet and working with 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment, which produces DVDs, to cut greenhouse gas emissions by eliminating the plastic knob in the center of its CD cases. The most difficult part of this latest green initiative has been persuading its suppliers to spend the time and money tracking and lessening their environmental impact. Essentially, suppliers are being asked to “examine the carbon lifecycle of their products, from the raw materials used in manufacturing all the way through to the recycling phase.” Although supplier participation was not mandatory, Walmart made it clear that it was interested in doing business only with suppliers that shared its goals. The company is also collaborating with organizations such as the Environmental Defense Fund, ClearCarbon, the Applied Sustainability Center at the University of Arkansas, and the Carbon Disclosure Project. These groups will advise Walmart and its suppliers and help in evaluating and measuring reductions.
3) What do you think of Walmart’s green initiatives? Will it ever be able to achieve the reputation of being environmentally friendly? Justify.
4) Cite all other ways that Walmart could go green. And why do you think it’s important for Walmart to collaborate with other green-minded organizations? Evaluate.
5) What could other organizations learn from Walmart’s green initiatives? And, look for ways that you could use these learnings to be more “green” in your personal life.