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“This is a summary on an article in the Harvard Business Review on The Ordinary Heroes of the Taj written by Rohit Deshpande and Anjali Raina in the December 2011 issue.
On the 26th of November, 2008, the C.E.O of Hindustan Uniliver had a party that he hosted in the Taj Mahal Palace hotel in Bombay, India, now called Mumbai. The company was saying good bye to the old C.E.O and welcoming a newly elected one. 35 employees of the said hotel were given the responsibility to manage the event.
At around 9 pm on the said night, there were sounds that at first were thought to be fireworks from a nearby wedding but were later discovered to be gunshots from terrorists who were going to invade the Taj Hotel. The 24 year old Banquet manager Mallika Jagad, had already noticed the abnormality in proceedings and had closed all the doors to the conference room and switched off the lights so as not to draw any commotion to that particular room that he was to be in charge of. She asked everyone to lie down in a quiet manner and also asked husbands and wives to lie separately so as to reduce the risk that it would bring to families.
The Taj employees kept calm the whole time offering water to the guests and trying to keep them calm. These people stayed the night in this room listening to terrorists throwing explosives and shooting in the aira fire started in a part of the hotel and this scared people making them want to go out through windows. A fire crew later came and helped some of these visitors out quickly. The staff made sure that the guests were let to go out first which led to no people dead in the room.
In another part of this same hotel, a Japanese restaurant was very busy at 9:30 pm. The hotel operator warned the people within this vicinity that terrorists had come into the Taj and were heading that way. The senior waiter at the restaurant, told his guests to go under tables, and told his fellow employees to hold hands and form a human chain around the guests. He then decided to try to help the guests escape the danger by instructing them to use a staircase that was near the restaurant to evacuate. He instructed his staff that under no conditions would a staff member leave before the guests left. He also stuck on leaving last and ensuring everyone was ok first., but he was gunned down just as he got to the bottom of the staircase.
When Taj Mumbai’s general manager Karambir Sing Kang heard about the attacks, he left a meeting he was at and rushed to the scene and immediately took charge of the scene immediately he arrived. He started aiding in the evacuation. His family was on the sixth floor where the General Managers house was. Kang had for some time been led into thinking that his family would be safe but immediately the fire started on the 6th floor, he knew there was no hope for his family. He did all he could until noon the day after when he realized this and had to call his parents to inform them that he had lost his wife and children in the attack. His father, a retired general, told him, “Son, do your duty. Do not desert your post.” Kang replied, “If it [the hotel] goes down, I will be the last man out.”
This event that lasted for two days and three nights will always remind us of the tragic events of November thw 26th.
During this, there wer 31 deaths and 28 injuries but the whole world was full of praise for the Taj hotels’ employees the guests were amazed at the way the employees did not just save themselves but ensured that the guests were evacuated before thinking of their own safety.
The employees took the guests to safe zones including kitchens and basements where they kept them from the harm of the terrorists. Operators in the hotel called each room to ensure that the guests hid and were safe, these operators also warned the guests to remove their key cards so that their rooms read vacant to make the terrorists not go into their rooms. These operators stayed at their posts the whole time despite the dangers. In the kitchen, the employees there formed human chains to protect the visitors during the escapes. 11 of the employees lost their lives in the process of trying to help between 1,200 and 1,500 guests escape.
These employees gave customer service a whole new meaning, they showed a very good example of customer centered business after not running away to their families but by staying back to help their customers even in time of disaster. These employees had no handbook that guided them on what to do in the specific situation but due to prior vigorous training that the staff undergo at the Taj, they did their best to show the worl, how a customer centric organization should be like.
The hotel and the situation turned ordinary, well trained employees to the Ordinary heroes of the Taj.
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