Two weeks before the collapse of the Vale SA dam in Brazil that killed 270 people, Vale’s then-CEO, CFO, and other executives received the following anonymous e-mail:
“We are facing great challenges ahead, our operations are lacking the minimum level of adequate investment, we are lacking personnel in the operational, maintenance and engineering areas and they are poorly remunerated…equipment is breaking, the dams are at their limit.” Luciana Magalhaes and Samantha Pearson, “Warned of a Problem, Vale’s CEO Lashed Out,” Wall Street Journal,November 5, 2019, p. A1.
There is now a criminal investigation focusing on the warning and a Vale spokesperson said that the warning was “generic.” However, the follow-up e-mail from then-CEO Fabio Schvartsman to other executives told them to find out who wrote it so that he could speak to the employee “eye to eye.” Mr. Schvartsman did not order an investigation into the allegations and added that the employee was a disgruntled one who was upset with his changes as CEO — one of which was eliminating the fiefs in the company. Say what?
Here’s a safety tip for CEOs around the world: When you get an anonymous complaint or any type of complaint, piece of information, or tip, remember this saying, “If what they said it true, you have a problem, if what they said is false, you have a problem. Find out if what they are saying it true, fix it. If what they are saying is false, fix the culture.” Disgruntled employees have a root cause– find it and fix it.