When walking does you credit – Tiger Brands CEO trapped LBW

CAPE TOWN — When a top brand strategist starts making value-system comparisons between your company leadership and woeful sports executives, you need to treat him as you would an umpire. Or at least your board and shareholders ought to persuade the captain and opening batsman to shoulder his bat and walk. Especially when the forefinger has been raised, as it seems to have been with Tiger Brands CEO, Lawrence MacDougall. He hasn’t covered himself in PR glory with his response to his factory being linked to the listeriosis outbreak that cost some 200 lives in early 2018. In fact, the public face of Tiger has worn a defensive snarl, rather than a more appropriate regretful mew. Some are even saying this contributed to the almost immediate 26% decline in headline earnings per share, a fairly debatable point, given the scale of the tragedy. What Tiger Brands did right, (after it was revealed that product safety was low on its hierarchal value system), was invest R10m in a food safety centre in a joint venture with Stellenbosch University. What it did wrong was exhibit a ‘win at all costs’ culture in its response to grieving families and now, contesting what could become a back-breaking class action. – Chris Bateman

Tiger Brands. What sport can teach business.

By Rob Opie*

‘I definitely think they should settle out of court and don’t fight tooth and nail like everything we have seen, they might be able to demonstrate that – well we’re not just cold hearted as the public thought we were and we actually do care about the people who eat our products “ – Lulame Megence, consumer analyst.

Last year was a disaster year for Cricket Australia – or was it actually a blessing in disguise going into this year’s ICC Cricket World Cup in England and Wales.

What the Australian Cricket Board did get right – was to act decisively to remove the man at the helm: CEO James Sutherland.

Yes, the ‘ banned sandpaper cricketers’ did make some bad judgement calls – but one needs to acknowledge that they were playing within a ‘win at all cost culture’ – determined, dictated and allowed to manifest by the man at the helm of Cricket Australia.

Cricket Australia’s value system had sadly lost its way under James Sutherland…

It was only a matter of time before it all exploded.

Fast forward to Tiger Brand’s announcement last week that it intends to defend its liability against a class action for 218  tragic listeriosis deaths.

Now, we all know that one cannot compare ‘sandpaper cheating incidents’ with the tragic LOSS OF LIFE , but what can we learn from the actions taken by the Australian Cricket Board.

Act decisively when the problem lies with culture

Yet, to date the Tiger Board has allowed CEO Lawrence MacDougall to continue – despite being the man at the helm of arguably the biggest food tragedy in South Africa – as well as displaying alarmingly high levels of insensitivity to the families of those who lost their lives.

Tiger is one of South Africa’s iconic companies – with icon brands loved by millions of South Africans.

As was the case with the Aussie cricket brand – surely the Tiger brand deserves better.

In a SENS statement issued on 19 April, Tiger has stated that they intend to defend the class action.

By doing so they stand the chance of significantly ramping up the ‘brand’s reputational damage’ – as lawyers will have a field day in open court tearing into the company’s current CEO, its board, its culture, its values, and its tone…the way things get done.

Also read: As Tiger Brands incinerates meat, CEO says it’s unclear how listeriosis entered factory

As a CEO, it’s your job to set strategy, determine culture and impose the values…and set the tone.

As a board member it’s your job to put the right person in the CEO job.

When an investigation into Tiger’s values at the time reveals that ‘product safety’ languished way down on their hierarchical value system – lawyers will argue that this was no accident – hence something was bound to go wrong sooner rather than later.

And it’s also the insurance companies who will be watching closely in what could become a protracted ‘Lance Armstrong like trial of denial‘.

Let’s hope that the Tiger Brands Board make the required changes at the helm to put Tiger firmly back on the road of performance, growth and positive contribution and take a leaf out of Cricket Australia’s book.

Tiger’s stakeholders deserve better.

And so do the families who lost their loved ones…

  • Rob Opie is a brand strategist, inspirational speaker, author and performance coach. He helps both teams and individuals to achieve their greatest potential in life. Contact him robopie@thegameplan.co.za.