Harvard Business School Studies Mumbai Heroics

Professor makes documentary on 2008 Mumbai terror attacks

Professor Rohit Deshpande of the Harvard Business School will soon make public his recent documentary-style case study on the bravery and sacrifice of Taj Mahal Palace and Tower hotel employees during the 2008 Mumbai terrorist attacks.

Titled “Terror at the Taj Bombay: Customer-Centric Leadership,” the study analyzes the company loyalty that motivated the Taj employees to sacrifice their own lives to save the hotel’s guests during the attacks rather than flee from the hotel.

Twelve of the thirty-one victims in the building were hotel employees.

During a trip to Mumbai to study the branding exercises of Indian business Taj Hotels Resorts and Palaces and its parent company, the Tata Group, Deshpande said the topic of the attacks on the property and employee leadership kept arising in conversation.

“This deserved a whole separate research trip and case study to learn how they managed through that crisis,” Deshpande said.

At the conclusion of his week-long research, which included interviews with receptionists, security personnel, chefs, and management up through Chairman Ratan N. Tata, Deshpande assembled a small team of multimedia specialists to aid him in developing the case study.

The end product, he said, is an approximately 30 minute-long documentary about the employees’ actions during the attacks that highlights local footage and security camera recordings.

Deshpande said he expects the study to one day be used in business schools domestically and abroad to teach students about the impact that effective management can have on employee loyalty.

“The case itself is currently a teaching vehicle developed primarily for use by our students in Harvard Business School,” he said. “My hope is that it will eventually be taught in business schools across the world and that one day we’ll see it used outside of business schools.”

He said he hopes the study will impart on students three critical points. The first principle, he said, was that in emergency situations ordinary people are capable of doing extraordinary things; the second principle suggests that in order to understand how employees act during crises, it is critical to evaluate their employer’s recruitment, training, and rewards programs; the third take-away principle, he said, is that the attacks in Mumbai and the heroic actions of the Taj’s employees did not represent an isolated incident.

When elaborating on the third point, Deshpande referenced the recent shooting in Tuscon. That instance, he said, represented the universality of unlikely heroes stepping up during times of emergency.

“The recent attacks are not something that happened only at the Taj hotel,” he said. “These sorts of acts happen all over the place, and we need to understand more about the heroes who emerge from them.”

—Staff writer Matthew M. Beck can be reached at mbeck@college.harvard.edu.

Tags