True North – Safety Leadership By Example

 And Then There’s The Story Of Anil Mathur!

Anil Mathur is the CEO of Alaska Tanker Company.  During the ASSE PDC in Las Vegas,  Mr. Mathur participated in the Executive Summit where he shared his story about changing the safety culture of his company.

Shortly after he became CEO, a serious injury incident occurred on a tanker while at sea.  Anil was concerned when he heard of the incident.   Taking safety very seriously, he contacted the captain of the ship and summoned him to Portland to discuss the situation.  The captain at first refused, stating that he couldn’t leave his ship while in transit.   He argued that his absence would result in delays, creating significant negative financial impact.  Anil insisted that the captain dock and travel immediately to Portland.

It seems that the culture at Alaskan Tanker was dictated by time and volume, and the rules were controlled by the tanker ship captains.  When the word got out that the captain was leaving his ship, everything at Alaskan Tanker came to a momentary halt.  A shift had just occurred, and everyone noticed it.  However, there was more was to come.

The captain arrived to see Mr. Mathur and was kept waiting for several hours.  This particular captain was one of the most senior and experienced in the fleet.  He was honored for his work and ability to meet schedules, so you can imagine how he fumed as he waited and waited in the reception area.  After all, this was only about an injury;  an injury to a ship-hand working a job that he knew was hazardous when he took it!  Injuries happen all the time with this type of work.

When Mr. Mathur finally brought the captain into his office he could see the agitation.  The captain began to protest the need for this face-to-face meeting and the indignity of being made to0 wait.   Anil abruptly interrupted, “You had a serious injury on your ship and you are responsible.  The safety of our fleet and our employees is very important to me.  Tell me about it.”  Then after hearing a few details he asked, “What was the person’s name?  Is he married?  How many children do they have? How long has he worked for us?”  The captain had no answers.  He didn’t know anything about this person, “after-all he was only a ship-hand.”

A major cultural shift occurred that day.  From then on “Safe Ships and Safe People” became as important as meeting the schedules.  The captain was penalized due to the delay and not only lost the shipping schedule bonus, but a percentage of pay due to the number of days he was late into port.  Further, Mr. Mathur instructed this captain to contact him directly with the details whenever there is an incident or injury of any kind.  The most important details that he will want to know are “The root cause and what will be done to prevent this type of incident from happening again.”  He also instructed the captain to report near-miss incidents, regardless of potential.  Finished with this captain, he instructed him, “to contact all the other captains and let them know of this new reporting requirement.”

All the other captains were put on notice that day.  Now, whenever Anil Mathur visits a port, is aboard a tanker, or meets with a captain, he wants to know what is done to assure safety. 

Beyond this, a broad safety process has been put in place, including comprehensive training at all levels with a focus on individual accountability, and a broad near-miss reporting system.  The safety performance, as well as the profitability of Alaskan Tanker Company speaks to the results of  his concern for safety throughout the organization.

This story from Anil Mathur shows us the True North of leadership, not just safety leadership.  Congratulations.