On the 26th of December 2004 I was awoken by a phone call from a colleague. He asked me if I had heard about the tsunami. I switched the wireless on and then the TV. I was 2 days from leaving Bishop’s Stortford to return to Hong Kong. My house had been ransacked by removal guys and I was sleeping in a sleeping-bag on a mattress. After that the only time I was not hearing about the tsunami was when I boarded the ‘plane back to HK.
I checked into The Mandarin Oriental and walked over to my new office. My equally new secretary greeted me warmly and with ruthless efficiency. One of my direct reports had been in Thailand and was in hospital. His leg had been cut in the shock waves and soon they were contemplating amputating it. Happily that never happened. One of my two-downs was missing, presumed drowned along with her husband. They were never found. She had worked late on Christmas Eve, flown to Thailand on Christmas Day and she and her husband were eating breakfast on the terrace of the hotel, freshly arrived for a well-deserved break. In my first month this was my biggest task. Dealing with her loss, communicating with relatives in Canada, making sure HR dealt with the case in a sympathetic and pragmatic manner, arrangements for a memorial service……… I had the parents flown in at the bank’s expense. I didn’t seek permission. It would have been churlish not to support them at this time but I was confident there would be a policy against it somewhere. Better not to ask.
A long way from being responsible from workouts and recoveries, globally, just down-to-earth, management of a far from down-to-earth situation. My secretary was superb. Just did things unquestioningly and ignored all protocols, just the way I did.
My colleague with the infected leg was flown back to England. I kept in touch with his sister all the time. He continued to go down hill. Then he was transferred to a specialist tropical diseases unit. Within 48 hours he had been properly diagnosed, the threat of losing his leg had gone and he made a full recovery.
And the secretary…. what became of her? Well she became Mrs. Ha and on the 29th December 2014 it will be ten years to the day since we met. A day we shall never forget.