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Fonterra's crisis competency falls whey short

Gary Romano resigns There's been much commentary on the Fonterra botulism scare and the subsequent reputational meltdown since the company broke the news of the contaminated whey just a fortnight ago.

Heads have started to roll - first Gary Romano and now two other managers - and there will probably be other management team members looking for a new job before things settle down. 

What I have found unbelievable is the lack of unpreparedness apparent in New Zealand's biggest company. As the scare unfolded it was evident in every public interaction - and inaction - that nobody at Fonterra had ever thought to plan for a crisis. Whether this was due to arrogance or incompetence we will never know.

Given the Sanlu scandal of 2008, I would have thought that Fonterra (renamed Fonterror during that scare) might have learnt a lesson or two. But it would seem not.  

What we got this time around was a display of complete incompetence, misinformation, misinformation leading to panic, damage to the country's global reputation and the image of all manner of individuals - from the Prime Minister to small scale baby-food manufacturers - running around like headless chickens attempting to correct things but in reality making it all a lot worse.

No company or organisation can deem themselves to be 'above' a crisis. I only hope that the executive team now realises the importance of crisis planning, effective communication and the value of reputation which, to be frank, were things that they seem to have felt beneath their consideration.  I also have some sympathy with Gary Romano who from the outset was let loose on the media without - it would seem - proper preparation or support. Seldom have I seen such a shambolic performance from a such senior player.

Alongside the inquiries into how the contamination occurred, I hope Fonterra is forced to scrutinise its crisis planning and communication - it has little remaining social capital here or abroad and another bungled crisis could mean the end of the road for this farming conglomerate along with New Zealand's ability to export food products to global consumers.

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