How an Indian hotel chain’s organizational culture nurtured employees who were willing to risk their lives to save their guests by Rohit Deshpandé and Anjali Raina PhotograPhy: getty Images
AbOve employees and guests of the taj mumbai hotel are rescued as fire engulfs the top floor on November 26, 2008.
On nOvember 26, 2008, Harish Manwani, chairman, and Nitin Paranjpe, CEO, of Hindustan Unilever hosted a dinner at the Taj Mahal Palace hotel in Mumbai (Taj Mumbai, for short). Unilever’s directors, senior executives, and their spouses were bidding farewell to Patrick Cescau, the CEO, and welcoming Paul Polman, the CEO-elect. About 35 Taj Mumbai employees, led by a 24-year-old banquet manager, Mallika Jagad, were assigned to manage the event in a second-floor banquet room. Around 9:30, as they served the main course, they heard what they thought were fireworks at a nearby wedding. In reality, these were
the first gunshots from terrorists who were storming the Taj. The staff quickly realized something was wrong. Jagad had the doors locked and the lights turned off. She asked everyone to lie down quietly under tables and refrain from using cell phones. She insisted that husbands and wives separate to reduce the risk to families. The group stayed there all night, listening to the terrorists rampaging through the hotel, hurling grenades, firing automatic weapons, and tearing the place apart. The Taj staff kept calm, according to the guests, and constantly went around offering water and December 2011 harvard business review 119
Seek fresh recruits rather than lateral hires. Hire from small towns and semiurban areas, not metros.
the taj approach to hr
reCruit from high schools and second-tier business schools rather than colleges and premier b-schools.
induCt managers who seek train workers for 18 a single-company career months, not just 12. and will be hands-on.
FoCuS more on hiring people with integrity and devotion to duty than on acquiring those with talent and skills.
asking people if they needed anything else. Early the next morning, a fire started in the hallway outside, forcing the group to try to climb out the windows. A fire crew spotted them and, with its ladders, helped the trapped people escape quickly. The staff evacuated the guests first, and no casualties resulted. “It was my responsibility…. I may have been the youngest person in the room, but I was still doing my job,” Jagad later told one of us. elsewHere in THe HOTel, the upscale Japanese restaurant Wasabi by Morimoto was busy at 9:30 pm. A warning call from a hotel operator alerted the staff that terrorists had entered the building and were heading toward the restaurant. Forty-eight-yearold Thomas Varghese, the senior waiter at Wasabi, immediately instructed his 50odd guests to crouch under tables, and he directed employees to form a human cordon around them. Four hours later, security men asked Varghese if he could get the guests out of the hotel. He decided to use a spiral staircase near the restaurant to evacuate the customers first and then the hotel staff. The 30-year Taj veteran insisted that he would be the last man to leave, but he never did get out. The terrorists gunned him down as he reached the bottom of the staircase. wHen KArAmbir singH KAng, the Taj Mumbai’s general manager, heard about the attacks, he immediately left the conference he was attending at another Taj property. He took charge at the Taj Mumbai the moment he arrived, supervising the evacuation of guests and coordinating the efforts 120 harvard business review December 2011
of firefighters amid the chaos. His wife and two young children were in a sixth-floor suite, where the general manager traditionally lives. Kang thought they would be safe, but when he realized that the terrorists were on the upper floors, he tried to get to his family. It was impossible. By midnight the sixth floor was in flames, and...