"Be prepared for anything and learn from the mistakes of others," was just some of the advice given to students in the University of Michigan-Flint School of Management (SOM) recently, by a senior member of the U.S. Toyota Corporate Communications team.
John McCandless, an executive with more than 30 years in the automotive industry, was able to provide SOM's students with a real-life look at a company in crisis and touched on the difficulties that executives can face when dealing with challenges, and competing views within an organization.
In his presentation to students, faculty, and regional business leaders, McCandless candidly discussed the importance of a communication strategy as part of a good business model, particularly in the case of a crisis. He offered a review of the role of Public Relations in the challenges Toyota has faced over the past few weeks.
"John stressed that maintaining a good reputation is a lot of work, requiring quick action to handle small issues before they become major problems." said Josh Stockton, a student in the marketing class.
The links between media relations, communications and reputation were key components of McCandless' lecture. He both impressed and inspired students with his open and honest nature and his willingness to discuss Toyota's recent problems. He presented a timeline of the past weeks and explained how Toyota handled each arising issue both internally and publicly.
"I was pleasantly surprised at how candid Mr. McCandless was, given Toyota's public relations problems arising from the sudden acceleration accusations. He emphasized how critical it is for a company to respond quickly to a public relations problem, to make sure the company's side of the story is treated fairly," said MBA student Christopher Enge. "If the company does not speak for itself, someone else will. I appreciated how honest he was in saying Toyota could have done better when the recall story first broke."
Dean Jack Helmuth of the School of Management expressed his appreciation for Mr. McClandess' generous gift of time spent with our students in discussing how a corporation should communicate during a crisis situation.
Dean Helmuth added, "Our Speaker Series and other efforts continue to connect our highly ranked MBA program with leaders of the business community."