Dean Michael Ginzberg

Point of View: Dean Michael Ginzberg on the Lessons of the Deepwater Horizon Disaster

Jun 9, 2010 — Michael Ginzberg is dean and professor of management and information systems at Yeshiva University’s Sy Syms School of Business.

Surely the explosion of the Deepwater Horizon, the ensuing oil leak and the effort to stop the leak and clean up the mess will be one of the biggest business stories of the year. It is already a huge environmental story, and the implications for business are equally large.

To start there is the question of the bottom line: how does an organization define it? To whom is the organization responsible? Much of what we are reading suggests that BP defined its bottom line and responsibility narrowly. Pumping oil quickly and profitably appears to have been the sole objective. Although BP has long subscribed to the triple bottom line concept—people, planet and profit—their actions in this case suggest that little attention was paid to the first two components.

Planning for contingencies, the unexpected, is important in all situations. It is absolutely essential when lives and the health of the planet are at stake. The events over the past month suggest there was very little contingency planning by BP or by anyone else involved in the Deepwater Horizon project. Each new “solution” seems worthy of a MacGyver episode—conjured up on the spur of the moment using whatever junk happens to be lying around. Unfortunately, in real life these inspired inventions do not always work. Hard thought ahead of time has a much higher probability of success.

Communications in times of crises must be clear, complete and honest. That does not seem to describe what we have seen and heard in this situation. For example, the continuing underestimation of the extent of the leak and the likely amount of environmental damage, as well as the release of certain evidence (such as the undersea video feed) only when pushed by the government, has destroyed the public’s trust in those involved with this disaster.

As businesspeople, we must always think about our actions and ask if we are acting ethically and with integrity. Business education at the Sy Syms School of Business is grounded in Jewish ethics and Torah values. These inform our graduates’ thoughts and actions and help ensure there are no future incidents like the Deepwater Horizon.

The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author and should not be attributed to Yeshiva University.