26/11: Taj attack now a case study at Harvard

The study focusses on "why did the Taj employees stayed at their posts to save hotel guests".

Boston: The heroic response by employees of Mumbai`s landmark Taj Hotel during the 26/11 terror attacks is now a case study at Harvard Business School that focuses on the staff`s selfless service for its customers and how they went beyond their call of duty to save lives.

The multimedia case study `Terror at the Taj Bombay: Customer-Centric Leadership` by HBS professor Rohit Deshpande documents "the bravery and resourcefulness shown by rank-and-file employees" during the attack.

The study mainly focuses on "why did the Taj employees stay at their posts (during the attacks), jeopardising their safety in order to save hotel guests" and how can that level of loyalty and dedication be replicated elsewhere.

A dozen Taj employees died trying to save the lives of the hotel guests during the attacks.

"Not even the senior managers could explain the behaviour of these employees," Deshpande is quoted as saying in HBS Working Knowledge, a forum on the faculty`s research and ideas.

Deshpande said even though the employees "knew all the
back exits" in the hotel and could have easily fled the
building, some stayed back to help the guests.

"The natural human instinct would be to flee. These
are people who instinctively did the right thing. And in the
process, some of them, unfortunately, gave their lives to save

A documentary-style account of events, the case
includes video interviews with hotel staff and footage of the

It shows how leadership displayed by people in the
bottom rank to the top levels in the organisational hierarchy
helped in saving lives.

It also focusses on the hotel`s history, its approach
to recruiting and training employees, the Indian culture`s
"guest is God" philosophy and how the hotel would recover
after the attacks.

Another key concept of the study is that in India and
the developing world, "there is a much more paternalistic
equation between employer and employee that creates a

Terming it as one of the "hardest cases" he has worked
on, Mumbai-native Deshpande said it was hard to see people
confront their trauma again.

"We objectify it, keep emotion at a distance, but
after 15 minutes of questions with a video camera in a
darkened room, there are deeper, more personal reflections of
what happened," he says in the HBS Working Knowledge.

Deshpande said Taj employees felt a sense of loyalty
to the hotel as well as a sense of responsibility to the

He cites the example of a general manager who insisted
on staying put and help direct a response to the attack even
after learning that his wife and sons had died in a fire on
the hotel`s top floor.

"Nothing in the employees` training could have
prepared them for such an unprecedented situation," Deshpande

Deshpande has taught the case in the School`s
Owner/President Management Executive Education programme.

It can also be taught as an example of managing the
post-crisis recovery of a flagship corporate brand, he added.