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Home > Reviews > Crisis Proof: How to prepare for the worst day of your business life

Crisis Proof: How to prepare for the worst day of your business life

Author Jonathan Hemus

ISBN No 9781781 335 109

Review date 03/07/2022

No of pages 258

Publisher Rethink Press

Publisher URL

Year of publication 12/02/2021


Our Review


£ 14.99, paperback

If you are a plane or train company, a crash. If you're Volkswagen, the diesel emission scandal. If you are in the food supply chain business, the horse meat scandal. If you use IT, a cyber attack, or any outage that means your product or service goes down. Depending on where you are, it could be a flood or bush fire, tsunami, hurricane or earthquake.

The sheer number and range of things, man-made (act or terror, hacking, kidnapping) or natural disaster that can cause a crisis can be frightening. The crisis management consultant Jonathan Hemus' book Crisis Proof: How to prepare for the worst day of your business life is largely covid-free, which comes as a relief, and not a loss; there are plenty enough potential crises. The only thing that coronavirus (and previous viruses like SARS and Ebola) challenges in terms of crisis management is that - to take the author's sub-title - we tend to assume a crisis is something bad, but over quite quickly, like the Titanic sinking; although the impact - on a company's reputation and share price - can be long term.

Only at the very end does Jonathan Hemus say that he wrote the book in 2020, as we faced 'the biggest crisis in living memory. The virus's devastating impact illustrates the power of a crisis to wreak extraordinary harm on people and organisations.' It's a testament to how sound Hemus' text is that it doesn't need to be informed by covid-19. No matter what the crisis, it pays to plan, train and rehearse for a crisis, he argues.

From the very start of this highly readable book, it's striking how personal it is. For as he writes, the actual crisis - contaminated food, an accident at an amusement park, 9-11 - does not destroy a business; the response to a crisis (an unfeeling chief executive's unsympathetic words; organisational inaction) can. Or, if a response is prompt and responsible, not only are losses of all kinds minimised, but it can rebound to the greater success of an organisation. Hemus is not crass enough to say that an exec or a business can have a 'good crisis'; but if we turn to covid-19, few can resist judging how well politicians, or their own employers or workmates have done in the last year.

Hemus, pictured, writes: "It still saddens me to see admired, successful businesses destroy themselves as a result of poor crisis management. It angers me even more to witness the unnecessary harm wreaked upon employees, customers, local communities and investors as a result." As that implies, the book is not so much aimed at the crisis management specialist as 'savvy, successful but time-poor executives'. The author takes us through the steps to be ready for a crisis: assess, plan, train, exercise, and then respond. And - as we're talking in terms of risk - it's a never-ending process of learning, and continually improving, rather than a one-off examination.

For Hemus doing crisis management is plainly personal; it's self-interest, and the right thing to do, for staff, customers, neighbours and shareholders, not because the regulator requires you to. Success 'is much more about what you do before the crisis than after it'; if you are putting together a team, finding a room to base it in (thinking in pre-covid terms), and how to stock it with phones, food and drink, you're too late; in a crisis, time is too much at a premium for anyone to have to attend to such details, important though they are.

Having said that the book is aimed at the business leader who finds himself in a crisis, Hemus does make the point that crisis management is a 'team sport'; a single CEO no matter how heroic cannot do everything, or not for long. Crisis communications, for example, are important (Hemus himself came into this arena from PR) but not the same as crisis management. A crisis management team will need other specialists; hence the need to give roles in advance, and to train staff so that in the pressure of an actual crisis they are better able to work.

In so many books about risk and security, an author makes a fine case, but neglects the all-important question of executive buy-in; it's no good having good ideas, if you cannot convince the board or line manager or accountant to give budget and backing. Hemus devotes a dozen pages to this. He's wise: build alliances with like-minded colleagues, start small, get your house in order first, and do things at the right time. To repeat, Hemus gets personal: "No leader wants a botched crisis as a stain on their CV, so a subtle appeal to their self-interests can help to attract their attention." A rival has to go through a product recall, or says something embarrassing when he thought the cameras and microphones were turned off? That causes a share price to fall, and can lead to forced resignations.

Just as security can be something done begrudgingly by an organisation, as insurance that people don't want to pay, so it can be with crisis management; here Hemus makes an acute point. It's flawed to think of crisis management as something of value only when the worst happens: "In fact, engaging in crisis management planning, training and exercising can have huge benefits on business as usual." The planning process can uncover vulnerabilities, and sniff out problems before they become bigger or too big. Besides, working as a team, managing information quickly and well, communicating clearly to staff and customers - don't all businesses want to do those things?!

Returning to the theme of risk, a near-miss - a crisis only just avoided - can be put to good use, if you prepare for the next time; or if a competitor suffers a crisis that could easily have landed on you, you can review how you would have reacted.

The book is nicely leavened with quotes of good advice from people in the field, and the occasional example. Security managers will either have an input or membership of a crisis management team, or will have officers doing their bit, whether manning the head office doors to keep the baying media out, or fighting fires, metaphorically or even literally. Hemus on page 182 recalls Rick Rescorla, the head of security at Morgan Stanley at the World Trade Center in New York, who died on September 11, 2001, but whose relentless evacuation planning and exercises saved many colleagues' lives.

Hemus' book has come out during a time of permanent crisis. For anyone with executive responsibility, in their work or personal lives, this book is valuable, to make you vigilant and crisis-aware, and understand precisely what you are doing and why.

About the author

Formerly global head of crisis and issues management at the consultancy Porter Novelli, he is now MD of his own Birmingham-based consultancy, Insignia. Visit