Multilingual Business Communication

April 9, 2009

Deutsche Bahn boss resigns over spying scandal

Filed under: crisis communication, Liesbeth Van Den Mosselaer — Tags: , — meertaligebedrijfscommunicatie @ 12:33 pm

mehdorn7Hartmut Mehdorn, the head of German rail operator Deutsche Bahn, offered his resignation last week after weeks of continuous criticism by German politicians. Mr. Mehdorn admitted in February that Deutsche Bahn had spied on its employees as part of an anti-corruption campaign. Private investigators were hired to tail employees and tens of thousands of e-mails were screened for criticism against the company. Deutsche Bahn would have accessed confidential personnel information from 1998 until 2006. In 2002 and 2003 alone, the company would have surveilled 173.000 of its 220.000 employees, without informing the trade unions.

Germany was shocked by the scandal, especially because there did not appear to be a reason for the surveillance whatsoever. There were no complaints that would lead to suspect corruption in the company. The fact that Deutsche Bahn did not notify the trade unions also incited a lot of criticism.

Mr. Mehdorn admitted that the trade unions should have been informed, but he did not apologize for the mistake, something the trade unions did not appreciate. Furthermore, he was heavily criticized for his perceived arrogance in the affair, refusing to resign and stressing that his company did not break the law. In my opinion, it is of vital importance that you show regret as a company when you cause such a shock among your stakeholders. Mr. Mehdorn could have handled this crisis better.

Last week he eventually gave in to the pressure and offered his resignation. “Although he had done nothing wrong, he wanted to end the destructive debates for Deutsche Bahn”.

Liesbeth Van Den Mosselaer


April 7, 2009

ArcelorMittal: when two giants merge

Filed under: crisis communication, employee communication, Hannelore Blomme, internship — meertaligebedrijfscommunicatie @ 2:53 pm

401-1-3-arcelormittal_logo1In 2007, Mittal Steel, a leading Indian steel company, offered to buy Arcelor, a European steel producer, for no less than 26.8 billion euros. Arcelor agreed, and a few months later, ArcelorMittal was born.

Mittal Steel had tried to buy Arcelor in January that year already, but at that point, Arcelor had rejected the offer: they didn’t like the idea of an indian management and feared that the indian steel was inferior to theirs. Later that year, Mittal doubled its offer, and Arcelor had to agree for fear of a shareholder’s revolt. The combined company is world the leading steel production company, with a capacity of more than three times that of its main rival, the Japanese Nippon Steel.

This merger didn’t only change the global steel production landscape thoroughly, it is also a highly interesting case of a merger where two entirely different corporate cultures had to blend into one. A whole new brand identity was created, with a new logo, a new motto (“transforming tomorrow”), new values and a new mission. But how was this communicated towards employees? Mainly with the help of a website, Employees from all over the world on all hierarchic levels could go there, watch videos about the progress in the merger process, and write comments on a blog. Moreover, they could ask questions directly to the new CEO, mr. Laksmi Mittal.

In my opinion, this is a very interesting case of internal communication in times of change. The merger was a huge risk, but it turned out to be successful, and I think this is mainly owing to the well considered communication policy. If you ask me, many companies can learn from it!

Source: The New York Times

April 6, 2009

North Korea provokes the world

Filed under: crisis communication, Poelaert Nathalie — meertaligebedrijfscommunicatie @ 8:17 am

Last night North Korea test-fired a long-range missile. The operation seems to have failed, because only a few minutes after the missile was launched it crashed into the Sea of Japan. Yet, North Korea managed to proceed with this operation, notwithstanding the objection of the world powers.

Several countries from all over the world have already denounced this action and this morning’s statement from the White House shows the indignation of the United States: “The United States ‘strongly condemns’ the launches and North Korea’s ‘unwillingness to heed calls for restraint from the international community’. This provocative act violates a standing moratorium on missile tests to which the North had previously committed.”

Since the confession of North Korea in October 2002 to have a secret nuclear-arms programme, several talks between North Korea and six other parties took place to prevent North Korea to go on with this programme. In 1999 North Korea even signed a Moratorium on Testing of Long-Range Missiles. However, in the past ten years North Korea has violated this declaration more than once.

It is not any wonder that the world powers are disturbed. North Korea could easily reach Alaska, Russia, Pakistan and India with its long-range missiles and we have learned from the past that North Korea is not afraid to violate its agreements.

Nathalie Poelaert

April 5, 2009

Fired by Big Brother!

Filed under: crisis communication, employee communication, Karen Decabooter, Uncategorized — meertaligebedrijfscommunicatie @ 1:54 pm

You're fired

Endemol, one of world’s largest television production companies, recently unveiled  a new generation of ‘spectacular entertainment programs’, including the reality show ‘Someone’s gotta go’. The current economic crisis is the source of inspiration of Endemol’s new reality show in which a SME is facing financial difficulties and therefore has to dismiss some of its employees. While Big Brother is watching them, the employees have to decide themselves who should be paid more or less. In the end, one of them is fired by his or her own colleagues.  The rights of the concept have already been sold to the American broadcasting station Fox. Luc Vrancken, TV director at Endemol Belgium, announces that there are no concrete plans yet to introduce this program in Belgium. He claims that legislation and Flemish discretion about pay and dismissals are an obstacle for success.

However, the concept of this TV show has already caused a lot of fuss and controversy. Trade unions cry blue murder and claim that dismissals are no entertainment subject and that good crisis and employee communication are necessary in case of dismissals. I understand their concern and I am also an advocate of a more careful approach in case of dismissals. Which companies will throw good communication principles to the winds and will participate in this sensation-hungry program?

(Karen Decabooter)


Toyota begs employees to return Blackberries

Filed under: crisis communication, Karen Decabooter, Uncategorized — meertaligebedrijfscommunicatie @ 11:44 am


Asking employees to return their Blackberries is one of the economy measures that Toyota Motor Europe has taken to fight against the economic crisis.

Three months ago, Katsuaki Watanabe, senior executive of the Japanese car producer Toyota , announced that it is difficult for Toyota to keep its head above water during the current economic crisis. He announced an expected operational loss of € 1.19 billion for the financial year that ended on March 21, 2009. To make up for these historical losses, Toyota decided to introduce heavy productions cuts and to reduce working-hours in 75% of its production plants. Moreover, general managers will receive smaller bonuses and they will lose a lot of their fringe benefits. 

Two weeks ago, some sixty Belgian managers of Toyota Motor Europe were asked to return their Blackberries immediately. Although Blackberries are useful devices with a lot of e-mail and agenda applications for travelling managers, the communication costs of these devices are relatively high. According to Frederique Verbiest, spokeswoman of Belgacom, telecom expenses are often revised in times of crisis. However, Toyota is one of the first companies that interferes in the use of Blackberries.

It is a question whether this is the most efficient and paying measure to handle the economic crisis. The majority of managers are already addicted to this business toy. “For most of us, it will be difficult to return our Blackberry”, says one of the employees of Toyota Motor Europe. Don’t you think that this will stir strong feelings among managers who will be less motivated to fight against the crisis? Wouldn’t it be a better idea to let them keep their Blackberries and merely economize on future perks? 

(Karen Decabooter)

April 4, 2009

Wanted: Cyberellas

Filed under: crisis communication, employee communication, Kirsten De Weerdt — meertaligebedrijfscommunicatie @ 1:22 pm

Nowadays, the sector of ICT – information and communication technologies – is still dominated by men. You can hardly find any women in this business. However, the sector could surely use some female IT specialists because there is a large ICT skills shortage.

In Europe, there is a shortage of 100,000 IT specialists. Moreover, this number is expected to reach 300,000 by 2010. The European Commission believes that the jobs in technology should be more appealing for women, so that female IT specialists, also called cyberellas, could fill the gap.

The European Commission would like to set an example and  is setting up a campaign to promote ICT among females. On the 3rd of March, there was a conference named “Cyberellas are IT” where the European Commission received a signed Code for Best Practices for Women in ICT by some of the major actors in the ICT sector such as Microsoft and Motorola. The Code aims to attract women at schools and universities to the high-tech sector, but tries also to retain and promote women already working in the ICT sector. The European Commission also organized a series of “Shadowing days” to show young females that technology is not at all “strictly for geeks/men!” 

Just take a look and see if you are convinced that we can all do IT!


(Kirsten De Weerdt)

March 31, 2009

Can I please use a US toilet?

Filed under: Anja Peleman, business communication, crisis communication — meertaligebedrijfscommunicatie @ 8:17 pm

This is what Gennady Padalka, a Russian cosmonaut on the International Space Station (ISS) is asking, because he is no longer allowed to use a US toilet on the Station. Conversely, he is being asked to use only national toilets. This is not the first time something like this happens, Mr. Padalka is also no longer allowed to use a US exercise bike. Moreover, the US and Russian cosmonauts now have to eat their own rations. Honestly, I do have to say that all of this does sound a bit banal, but I can imagine this may create some unpleasant situations up there in space. That is also the reason why I am wondering: how can situations like this be created?

Mr. Padalka himself blames the upcoming commercial aspect of the space missions since 2003, where Moscow started billing Washington for sending its astronauts into space. Take for example the US billionaire Charles Simonyi, a software tycoon who paid $35m for a 13-day trip to the station. It are ‘trips’ like these that create a kind of hindrance for the astronauts living on the Station, for having less space then. Next to that, Mr. Padalka blames the politicians for situations like these: “Cosmonauts are above the ongoing squabble, no matter what officials decide. It’s politicians and bureaucrats who can’t reach agreement, not us”.

Let us hope that his words can help to let the politicians realize that this Cold War-like stand-off must be solved very soon, so that Mr. Padalka can use the toilet he would like.

Anja Peleman

March 24, 2009

Business disaster, crisis or just bad news?

Filed under: business communication, crisis communication, Marlène Bragard — meertaligebedrijfscommunicatie @ 11:23 am

According to the article Survive the Unthinkable Through Crisis Planning, a distinction is commonly made between a business disaster or a crisis.

A crisis and a disaster are both negative for the company, but differ greatly. A disaster results in great damage, difficulty, or death (a fire or a flood for example). A crisis occurs when a situation has reached a very difficult or dangerous point. It is not always easy for the company to know whether it’s dealing with a crisis. What is certain is that not succeeding in handling a disaster will often lead to a crisis. When the scandal gets to the heart of the company and hits its credibility, it is clearly facing a crisis. Stock market drop, employee misconduct, product liability claims, manufacturing or design mistakes, accidents, etc., are all well-known examples of a crisis. The difference with bad news is that in the latter case, your company’s mission or ability to continue working on the long term is not affected.

I wonder however why this difference is so relevant when you know that in both cases, having a crisis communication plan is the only key to survival. This plan needs to be developed to cover any emergency your company might be expected to meet. The aim in developing it is to encourage your people to think how that could be handled efficiently. The goal of this communication plan is to be sure your people will be able to use some tools to minimize the damage and have the crisis (or the disaster) under control.

Be prepared!

Crisis communication starts before the crisis

Filed under: crisis communication, Sophie Naveau, Uncategorized — meertaligebedrijfscommunicatie @ 9:27 am

When you think about ‘crisis communication’, I am sure you immediately imagine a situation of emergency, a lot of stress and a hectic press conference. For sure, you do not realise that, next to actual crisis management, crisis communication is also crisis preparedness!

It is most of the time impossible to predict when a crisis will strike. What you can actually do at all time is preparing your company to face a potential crisis. No need to say there are a lot of things at stake in a company: the organisation’s reputation, its market share and brand equity, as well as the confidence of customers, employees and shareholders. A crisis jeopardizes all these. This is why it is of the upmost importance to do everything in your power to prevent it from happening.

Therefore, remember the three following pieces of advice for a good crisis preparation:

– Identify your company’s weak points and take steps accordingly
– Simulate situations through crisis exercises
– For all this: seek advice from expert communication consultancy!


24th March 2009

March 21, 2009

AIG apologizes for misusing government’s money

Filed under: Aagje Verbogen, crisis communication — meertaligebedrijfscommunicatie @ 8:25 pm

In an open letter to the Washington post, the American insurance company AIG apologizes for the mistakes it has made. Edward Liddy, head of AIG and author of the letter admits that the company has used the government’s money to “reward” its top executives with large bonuses. The government aided the largest insurance company in the world four times, but the money was shamelessly abused: of the 170 billion dollars that the company received, 165 million was used to pay its executives.

This caused a lot of protest in America and President Barack Obama reprimanded the company. I think that we can all agree with Max Baucus, a Montanta Democrat, that “Millions lost their jobs; it’s an outrage that the people who somewhat caused this problem are now paying themselves bonuses.” Liddy thinks that the American people are right to be appalled and says that he feels the same. However, he claims not to be responsible for the exorbitant salaries.

The American Chancellor of the Exchequer, Timothy Geithner, has ordered AIG to repay the 165 million dollars, and rightly so. “We will impose on AIG a contractual commitment to pay the Treasury from the operations of the company the amount of the retention awards just paid,” Geithner said. If AIG refuses, the government will consider rising taxes to recuperate the bonuses.

aig1 edward-liddy1
Source: Metro n° 1866, Thursday 19 March 2009

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