It’s time the industry took security seriously

COMMENT
Sheila Ronis, Ph.D., is president of the Universtiy Group Inc., a think tank in Birmingham, Mich., that specializes in strategic management. She is also an adjunct professor at the University of Detroit and Oakland University.

Before the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, the United States in its arrogance did not take national security seriously. The auto industry must take security seriously, too.

Long before Sept. 11, when the Berlin Wall fell and the infrastructure of the former Soviet Union began to crumble, the stable, bipolar world of the Cold War changed forever. Instead of a peace dividend, we inherited an increasingly complex, unstable, chaotic and violent place to live, with less predictability than ever before.

The end of the Cold War did not end the threats to America, to American interests or to American companies. In fact, until Sept. 11, we Americans had been lulled into a false sense of security by thinking we no longer had an enemy to worry about.

We don’t have an enemy. We now have many enemies. And our own ignorance and complacency are among them. Our world has been changed forever by the terrorists.

The events of Sept. 11 should teach everyone in the auto industry some lessons. One of the most important is the need for security — for companies, not just countries.

Look at Cantor Fitzgerald, a World Trade Center tenant, and its devastating losses of human and intellectual capital, not readily replaceable. The fates of companies as well as countries are tied to their intellectual and security capabilities and to their ability to develop appropriate scenarios and strategies.

American companies, their subsidiaries and their financial arms will remain targets for terrorists around the world for some time. Is your company prepared?

A security checklist

Will American companies develop scenarios and strategies that think through the ramifications of Sept. 11 and address the second-, third- and fourth-order effects of what happened and how it will impact them?

Most organizations have react/recovery plans in case of emergencies. How well organized are they? Do they reflect the current environment?

Are all the computer systems and other files in your company backed up regularly?

How well have you investigated the new hires in your company?

What about the people who are responsible for security? Have you given the contract to the lowest bidder? Are the security people paid minimum wage? Are they given training? Does your security company do extensive background checks on its people?

Do you have competent evacua-tion strategies, and do you rehearse them routinely? Evacuation strategies meant the difference between life and death for many in the World Trade Center on Sept. 11.

Are your people around the world safe? Do they always have an open airline ticket available? Should families always travel abroad? Have you developed criteria to tell you whether a country is stable? Do your employees and their families always know what to do if they have to leave a country quickly?

‘Shaping’ your company

Has your company developed and executed a global strategy and vision for security and success?

Is the security vision holistic and integrated?

The essential elements of a company’s security include protecting all the company’s assets from satellites in space to cyberspace, from urban areas to rural areas, from within the United States to around the world.

Other security challenges with transnational concerns involve intertwined economies, organized crime, terrorism and the environment. The information age is a two-edged sword.

As we have seen, terrorists will attack America and American companies in asymmetric ways using their strengths against our weaknesses. They will use whatever is at their disposal, from information warfare to weapons of mass destruction.

The auto industry must take its security responsibilities seriously.

Your company will be most effective if you are “shaping,” which is the Department of Defense term for trying to influence or create the future. Do you know how?

If your company doesn’t have a plan, a vision and strategies for security and success, your business and its people are at risk. Having one can mean the difference between winning and losing — between life and death. We all saw the effects of that on Sept. 11.

Prevention of problems on a global basis is the essence of shaping since prevention is far less costly in dollars and lives than any terrorist attack. And shaping is the execution of a vision and strategies that support a comprehensive plan. The process works by managing risk.

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