In business and political crises, every utterance becomes magnified to the point that ill-fated word choices become forever linked to the incident and the reputation of the speaker and their company. "I'd like my life back" will likely be former CEO Tony Hayward's enduring legacy from BP's Macondo tragedy in 2010.
So how did our leaders fare in 2012? Here are some quotes that Santa says are naughty and nice.
Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas - naughty
"CPRIT must have the trust of our fellow Texans that we are not only doing great work, but that we are also doing everything the right way." Hard to argue with those words from Bill Gimson, CPRIT's executive director. But less than two weeks later he announced his resignation on the same day the Travis County District Attorney's office opened a criminal investigation into the awarding of grants by CPRIT, while the Texas Attorney General launched an investigation of an $11 million grant to a Dallas biotech firm. The Houston Chronicle, AP and Dallas Morning News uncovered the news.
New Jersey Governor Chris Christie - nice
"Get the hell off the beach." In Tampa for the Republican National Convention as Tropical Storm Isaac was threatening the east coast, the blunt spoken governor quoted himself from a year earlier when Hurricane Irene was headed for the Garden State and not everyone was heeding calls for safety. Governor Christie's subsequent praise of President Obama following Superstorm Sandy landed him on a number of naughty lists.
Houston METRO's referendum – naughty
"I think if you asked 100 people what the referendum meant, you would find confusion on the part of 90 of them," former METRO chairman David Wolff told the Houston Chronicle after the vote. A subsequent study by Rice University found about a third of actual voters did not understand what they were voting for. Massive voter confusion isn't itself a crisis, but the resulting inability to complete Houston's light rail system will cause serious mobility challenges down the road.
Black Elk Energy CEO John Hoffman – nice & naughty
"We will continue to remain focused on the victims and their families, including those injured in the incident." This was part of a statement from Mr. Hoffman following the fatal explosion on an oil platform in the Gulf of Mexico. Personal expressions of concern for the families of those killed and injured is a good move following a tragic accident. But a company must match its words with performance. Following this crisis, the director of the U.S. Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement had harsh words for Black Elk's operating record.
U.S. Department of the Treasury - naughty
"It is almost inconceivable that any Treasury secretary will be able to make the tough decisions necessary to finally address too-big-to-fail by chopping the banks down to size…Dodd-Frank didn't change the post crisis status quo of too-big-to-fail; it cemented it." Former Special Inspector General for TARP, Neil Barofsky, writing in his 2012 book Bailout. That and Barofsky's other conclusions are enough to suck the holiday spirit right out of you.
Men in Black 3 - nice
"We need pie." With no apparent options to stop an invasion of Earth by Boris the Animal, young Agent K (Josh Brolin) befuddles his partner Agent J (Will Smith) by calling a dessert break. "My granddaddy always said if you got a problem that you can't solve, it helps to get it out of your head…trust the pie." Sure enough. Inspiration strikes at the lunch counter and they rush out to save the planet. As in many real world crises, the solutions are not always obvious and sometimes require patience to find.
Finally, from an unknown author, is a cautionary reminder about being prepared for a crisis in 2013: "When you hear thunder, it's too late to build an ark."