By Robyn Molloy

When disaster was averted and QF32 landed safely in Singapore after catastrophic engine failure in 2010, it could have sent the reputations of Qantas, Rolls-Royce and Airbus into a tailspin.

But the actions of the Captain Richard de Crespigny and the Qantas team had the opposite effect and are the perfect example of how honesty, transparency and excellent systems are the best tools for corporate crisis management.

De Crespigny outlines in a chapter of his new book FLY! ‘how not to trash your brand’ and gives examples of what works and what fails. He will be in Perth on September 27 to discuss the book as part of the CCI Business Book Club.

The pilot with more than 40 years’ experience famously debriefed passengers for two hours after landing the A380 safely and gave out his mobile phone number as a personal guarantee that the company was looking after them and so he could make sure they all made it home safely.

De Crespigny says it didn’t matter that none of this was in a Qantas manual, because it was important he stand by his values as a leader and in his job as a pilot that day.

In FLY!, De Crespigny outlines his WHYs – personal core values that determine how he thinks, acts and communicates – which led to his actions that day, that not only saved the lives of 469 people, but also protected the brand and reputation of his company.  

“For the passengers my WHYs are that for every passenger, every partner or wife of the passenger has the right to expect their loved one home for dinner. And that’s a reasonable request,” he says.

“I will get that passenger to that person’s home for dinner. That means I won’t just get them on the runway and off the airplane. If necessary, I’ll get a taxi and I’ll drive that person to where she needs to go.

“So I gave them my mobile number and as I wrote in my first book QF32, no one called with complaints but many people came back to say thanks. That provides the audit. I was actually able to audit every single passenger getting back home and they all did. So really it’s the WHYs that explain everything I did.”

Showing empathy and communicating well is crucial during crisis management because if there is a hole in communications and the people in control don’t fill it, then the media will fill it, De Crespigny says.

“In a crisis you need to stand in the shoes of the victims, which can be the people at the scene and also the families back at home who are watching,” he says.

“You should take control, shut down the rumours and prevent them from escalating. During the crisis I told the pilots that everything we say, every word is critical and it will be on the internet in half an hour.

“I had one foot in the shoes of the passengers.  I had empathy for them.  The other foot was in the shoes of the board and executives of Qantas thinking about their interests and perspectives.  I had a very strong interest to protect the reputations of Airbus and Rolls-Royce, so that’s what I did.”

De Crespigny says corporate crises are inevitable, but it’s how they are handled that will make the difference between sending a company to the wall or having the systems, people and preparation in place to ensure their brand emerges stronger than before.

He is still a pilot for Qantas and travels the world delivering presentations on the elements of resilience (knowledge, training, experience, teamwork, decision-making, crisis management, post-traumatic stress and risk).

De Crespigny was made a Member of the Order of Australia for his significant service to the national and international aviation industry in the 2016 Australia Day Honours.

Meet Captain De Crespigny over breakfast, book here to secure your place now.