The apology, 50 years after the event by German pharmaceutical company Gruenenthal to the people affected by its Thalidomide drug in the 1960s should act as a lesson to any company dealing with the consequences of corporate mistakes.

See –

When I am counselling clients about corporate crisis situations I recommend, that if there are victims of their corporate mistakes, they apologise as soon as possible – to fail to do this leaves a stain on the corporate reputation which will always be pointed out.

The way I like to describe this is to imagine you are walking through a bar and you accidentally knock someone’s glass of wine over, covering them in house red. What would you do?

Our natural human response is to first apologise (and probably say what a clutz you were for brushing against their glass) and then probably offer to buy another glass and , if the spillage was bad, to pay for dry cleaning.

What you would not do is walk away without a word, intending to write to them in a few weeks time.

Think how you would now feel as the diner sat wearing that glass of red if someone knocked over your drink and walked off without a word –  it’s just asking for a fight to start isn’t it?

So why do corporations act so differently? Is it that they don’t value their reputation? Is it that they just don’t care as long as they are making money?

I don’t think so. Strong influences are certainly the lawyers with their “Say nothing, admit nothing and it will all go away” approach (thankfully less common now than in the 1960s), but I believe there are more human forces at work.

Caught in the storm of a corporate crisis the behaviour of senior executives changes – shock, fear, confusion bear down on their thought processes making basic human responses (like apologising) difficult.

So 50 years on Gruenenthal say sorry – no doubt a difficult thing for Harald Stock, Gruenenthal’s chief executive to do – but it’s something which should have been said 50 years ago but was just too hard. Senior executives need to remember that whilst they are human, with all the weaknesses and frailties, so are the people their actions affect.