What they say

Stephen Archer is a speaker with great charisma. By using illustrations and personal experiences and not being afraid to share his own point of view of the current situation and who is to blame for it, he engages the whole audience, at the same time helping us all to understand the credit crunch a little better.

— Warwick Business School


Why BAA failed in the snow

No wonder Virgin and Lufthansa want compensation

As a leadership and change consultant I watched the BAA Heathrow snow debacle with horror and some certainty of the causes. The causes were betrayed in the BAA’s CEO interview on ITN news. The whole thing had a horrible inevitability about it.

The simple reality is that most modern, large organisations are now designed to fail in a crisis. E.g. BA when T5 opened, BP in the Gulf, Toyota’s brakes etc.


1. The march of process has displaced the march of progress.  Internal red tape, due diligence and rule by committees all ensure that any strength of leadership is hobbled from the outset.

Excessive Process is the ball and chain of decision making and the handcuffs of leaders who could otherwise drive correct, quick decisions and actions.  With process goes a fear of consequences of not following process. Individualism and decision making are discouraged. Could initiative have cleared the runways? By their own admission yes, they only admitted after 4 days that the army could have helped – but BAA never asked!

2. Organisations are structured to stagnate. Divide and rule and fiefdoms are still killing organisations and inhibiting people from putting their head above the parapet. Subtle climates of fear are created and dressed up as ‘don’t rock the boat’ prudence. Structures are created to mirror the need for process and in so doing inhibit individual thought, never mind leadership. Complexity is admired because it’s clever and makes the senior management look good.

3. The culture of fear created in senior levels. There is something Orwellian in the way that successful managers can behave when they acquire power and authority – two vital pieces in the leader’s armoury. But when they reach the top they want yes men under them – not individual thinkers. Yes men are not the sort to suggest that a) there may be crisis and that b) it could be averted. In BAA, it was yes men that failed to call on the Army to help free the airport. Meanwhile the CEO depended on due process to get them out of a hole. The senior management clearly failed to see that the situation was serious.

4. The conflicting demands of shareholders and stakeholders. Shareholders habitually want reliable, predictable behaviour and performance by business in which they have invested. CEOs are complicit in the pretence that all is well when it is not. Again, it is not in a CEO’s interest to admit that there is a problem.

This leadership problem is fundamental and very serious, it not only symbolises the end of the ability of the UK (and maybe US) economy to drive itself forward in the world but also symbolises the weakness of the mature economies if they are to take on the emerging economies where leadership is still relatively unfettered.  The emerging economies are not just advancing through cheap labour, they are quicker and smarter. Oh, and their runways are clear!

Share this post


  • Edward Thompson

    This analyses why BAA failed in the snow. analyses the technical reason – and the solution.

  • byBrick

    Hej, jag är på semester och kommer tillbaka till kontoret tisdagen den 21 februari igen.

    Vänliga hälsningar,

blog comments powered by Disqus