A lot of words have been written lately about the loss of the submersible vessel that went down to view the remains of the Titanic and imploded. Some have lamented the loss while others have expressed some schadenfreude that a billionaire finally got what was coming to him.
I have, as usual, a different perspective.
Multiple Bad Decisions
I did not write this post to take pleasure in the misfortunes of others. The scientists and a young man aboard the Titan submersible deserved better. But this tragedy gives us one rare incidence of an egotistical billionaire who made multiple bad decisions and then actually experienced the consequence of those choices.
Most often, a CEO or person in charge, looks at the product or facility, decides to reduce costs somewhere, implements his “cost-savings” operation himself or through his CFO, and then steps back.
Those who lose their lives as a result are usually employees, service members, customers, bystanders, and other innocent people. When it all hits the fan and a disaster goes down, the CEO manages to be fortuitously elsewhere.
The Titanic Example
An excellent example of this comes from the Titanic itself. It wasn’t the captain who decided the ship should carry an inadequate number of lifeboats. The White Star Line’s Liverpool office mandated that the ship would carry only 20 lifeboats, which meant that on her maiden voyage, Titanic would provide lifeboat capacity for only 52% of the people aboard.
These lifeboats were supposed to provide a survival mechanism of last resort after the ship’s watertight compartments that would keep it afloat and the Marconi wireless to summon aid from nearby vessels. Did the person who decided to reduce the number of lifeboats die aboard the Titanic? He did not.
A Few More Bad Decisions
Other examples include.
- The people who worked in the 1911 Triangle shirtwaist factory did not lock the building’s fire doors. That happened on the orders of owners Max Blanck and Isaac Harris, who were not on the premises that day. The two men survived to be tried and acquitted—unlike the 146 garment workers who burned or jumped to their deaths.
The 22 people who died in Boston when a tank of hot molasses exploded in 1919 had no part in the decision to make the tank’s walls thinner than they needed to be. Arthur P. Jell, the assistant treasurer of the American Industrial Alcohol Company wanted to cut the cost of the project and reduced the thickness of the molasses tank’s walls. On the day it exploded, he worked safely in his Cambridge office.
- Sohel Rana, the owner of Rana Plaza, received warnings in 2013 that his building was unsafe, he responded by stated that it was safe and threatened to withhold pay from anyone who refused to return to work. When Rana Plaza collapsed, the building crushed 1,137 workers to death. Sohel Rana was not in the building that day. He remains in custody as part of an ongoing trial — 10 years later.
History provides many, many more examples. Whether in a distant office, on a golf course, in a bunker, or on vacation, the man in charge always manages to make himself scarce when bad things happen. He doesn’t show up until the emergency vehicles and first responders have arrived, if then.
The public relations department puts out a statement. The CEO gives some interviews, and expresses his remorse. He returns to one of his many homes, collects a sizable bonus and maybe has a few bad nights. After a while, the tragedy fades into history and is forgotten. He improves his golf game.
Bad Choices and Poor Decisions
Not this time. Stockton Rush, CEO of OceanGate, made some very bad choices.
- He ignored warnings from deep-sea expedition veterans that the Titan’s hull was not strong enough to resist the water pressure at 12.500 feet. Mr. Rush said he was “tired of industry players who try to use a safety argument to stop innovation.”
- A former employee filed a lawsuit against him alleging that passengers were being subjected “to potential extreme danger in an experimental submersible” resulting from “OceanGate’s refusal to conduct critical, non-destructive testing of the experimental design of the hull.” Rush settled the suit out of court.
- He fired OceanGate’s Director of Marine Operations for raising concerns about its innovative carbon-fiber hull and other systems before the Titan’s maiden voyage.
- He locked himself and his passengers into a vessel he knew to be unsound and took it down to depths he knew it could not survive.
Suffering the Consequences
I would like to think that the Titan tragedy would warn off other billionaire adventure tourists from taking enormous risks, but I would probably be wrong.
Having that much money can insulate one from the indignities, delays, frustrations and messes of life, from airport boarding gates to automobile salesmen. You can fly private on your own personal aircraft instead of waiting to board in Group 1. You can hire people to shop, drive, manage your money, clean your house(s) and perform other distasteful tasks. After a while, you might fall into the trap of believing that you are above other mundane problems.
Unfortunately, the laws of physics, gravity, thermodynamics and other immutable forces apply regardless of wealth. Mother Nature doesn’t care about the size of your net worth. Mathematical equations have no place for dollar signs.
But just this once, the man who made the bad decisions and created a tragedy that took the lives of others suffered the consequences himself.