By Mitchell Schnurman Fort Worth Star-Telegram For Luby's, it
was a crash course in crisis management.
In less than an hour Wednesday afternoon, the friendly,
down-home cafeteria chain was thrust into the center of the worst
carnage by a single gunman in American history.
Executives who specialize in store openings, menus and employee
motivation found themselves facing a problem more horrifying than
anything they'd imagined.
And in the end, they handled the situation well, even in
exemplary fashion, according to experts who advise companies on
coping with disasters.
Luby's executives didn't run and hide. They didn't clash with
the media or local authorities. And they didn't turn a cold
"Their message was compassion and sympathy," said Ken Fairchild
of the Dallas media consulting company, Fairchild/LeMaster. "It's a
classic example of how to deal with a terrible crisis."
Luby's is the latest case _ and one of the most tragic _ to
illustrate the vulnerability of American businesses and the
importance of a reasoned response.
The massacre at Luby's in Killeen, Texas, will always be
remembered for the 23 deaths that occurred there. But the company's
quick, compassionate actions may have prevented the incident from
becoming its legacy.
"People won't harbor any ill will toward Luby's because of
said Dick Starmann, senior vice president of McDonald's Corp.
"They'll see the human side of the company."
Starmann was among the executives who responded to a mass
killing at a McDonald's restaurant in San Ysidro, Calif., in July
1984. Twenty-one people were fatally shot in that incident, and
it's strikingly similar to Wednesday's shootings in Killeen.
"There's no book on how to respond to this," Starmann said,
"but we had one common denominator. From the beginning, we said we
were going to do the right thing. For the victims, the families,
the community. That was the one constant."
It appears to be the same theme at Luby's, where fast action
and personal involvement have distinguished the company's response.
Thursday, Luby's contributed $100,000 to a victims' assistance
fund in Killeen, rented 40 hotel rooms for visiting family members
and met with employees.
But the element that's stood out is management's high-level
participation. Luby's president and chief executive officer, Ralph
Erben, has been on the scene almost from the beginning.
A private jet owned by Diamond Shamrock flew him from San
Antonio to Killeen shortly after the shooting, and he's been there
ever since. He's worked with community leaders, held a news
conference for reporters and devised ways to help victims,
employees and their families.
"That's a symbolic gesture that's very important," said David
Margulies, whose Margulies Communications Group in Dallas advises
companies about crisis management. "It shows you genuinely care
about what happened and really want to do something."
At Luby's, it only seemed natural, an officer said.
"Actually, it was very much a common sense thing," said Buddy
Schrader, Luby's vice president of marketing and the company's
"In any tragedy, being there is important."
Schrader, who stayed in San Antonio to field more than 100
media calls in 24 hours, said there was little hesitation on