The dramatic and successful evacuation of the Fairmont New Orleans hotel in the wake of Hurricane Katrina will be the subject of this year’s Conference on Business Ethics on Monday, March 20, at 7 p.m. at Virginia Tech’s Burruss Auditorium. The conference, in its 16th year, is organized annually by the Department of Management in the Pamplin College of Business. The event is free and open to the public, no tickets needed. Free parking is available on the Drillfield and in Perry Street Lot 2.

In his talk, “Leadership and Ethics Lessons from Katrina,” Jeff Senior, senior vice president of sales and marketing at Fairmont Hotels and Resorts, will discuss how it organized and conducted the rescue of nearly 1,000 stranded guests and staff members and their families. Senior will also address the leadership and ethics issues faced during the process. The talk will be followed by a question-and-answer session that will include the participation of Clint Bruce, a former Navy SEAL who led the on-the-ground evacuation effort to New Orleans.

Senior will also meet faculty during an informal session earlier in the day to discuss how the experience may be used as a case study for teaching. As part of the conference activities, faculty members who teach ethics or business strategy will include leadership and ethics issues in their discussions. These are the types of scenarios that may be encountered during a crisis, such as the situation that developed in New Orleans in the aftermath of Katrina.

“I have spoken with a number of Fairmont representatives over the last few months, and I have learned that there are some very interesting issues involved that will lead to lively discussions in class,” said department of Management head Rich Wokutch, who does research on business ethics and corporate social responsibility. Wokutch also has a personal interest in the hotel’s rescue operation — his brother and sister-in-law were among the Fairmont guests stranded in New Orleans.

The Fairmont New Orleans, located a few blocks from the French Quarter, sustained relatively minor damage from Katrina itself, but when flood waters began rising in the area, and evacuation became the appropriate course of action, its general manager, Ray Tackaberry, sought help from the Fairmont in Dallas. The general manager in Dallas, Frank Naboulsi, arranged a rescue operation with the help of his friend and colleague, Clint Bruce, who put together a team and equipment that included about 10 individuals with previous experience in special forces or law enforcement, several Fairmont managers, eight buses, a Hummer, a bulletproof SUV, float craft, and global satellite phones.

The evacuation was completed approximately 64 hours after planning began. “This case is particularly significant for lessons about leadership in a crisis,” Wokutch said. “It is also notable that it was accomplished by a small group of individuals in a private corporation, while federal, state, and local agencies with far greater resources were stymied in their efforts at evacuating others.”

In classes during the week of the conference, Wokutch said, faculty members may discuss questions that include the following: Should Fairmont managers have ordered an evacuation of their New Orleans hotel before Katrina hit? What legal and moral responsibilities did the hotel have to guests and family members? What could or should managers have done about the looting by some staff members’ relatives to whom the hotel had offered shelter? Should the hotel’s evacuation buses pick up other, stranded people on the way out of New Orleans? If so, which ones? Major corporations seem to have responded more effectively to the crisis than federal, state, and local governments — why was this? Is “good ethics good business?”

Fairmont Hotels and Resorts Inc. is a leading owner/operator of 87 luxury hotels and resorts throughout the world.

Virginia Tech’s nationally ranked Pamplin College of Business offers undergraduate and graduate programs in accounting and information systems, business information technology, economics, finance, hospitality and tourism management, management, and marketing. The college emphasizes the development of leadership skills and ethical values and the integration of technology in the academic curriculum, and prepares students for global business challenges through faculty-led study abroad programs. A member of the college’s marketing faculty directs the interdisciplinary Sloan Foundation Forest Industries Center at Virginia Tech. The college’s other research centers focus on business leadership, electronic commerce, and organizational performance. The college is committed to serving business and society through the expertise of its faculty, alumni, and students.

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