Risk e-Views Vol 18 April 2012 – Risk Leadership? Think Rescorla, Boisjoly & LeMessurier

These names may not be familiar to you, however they all have a prominent position in James Chiles book “Inviting Disaster”.


Rescorla was the head of security at Morgan Stanley in the South Tower of the World Trade Centre at the time of the 9/11 terrorist attack. After the bombing of the underground car park of the World Trade Centre in 1993, he warned the firm of a possible terrorist attack from the air and that the firm should consider moving to another building. Because the lease was not up until 2006 no action had been taken by 2001. When the first plane hit the North Tower he acted on his earlier concerns and immediately started evacuating his staff in the South Tower while other firms delayed. Only 7 staff were lost, including Rescorla who was personally checking floor by floor that staff had been evacuated when the tower collapsed.

Boisjoly was an engineer at Morton Thiokol, the firm responsible for the design of the space shuttle rocket booster that sent the shuttle into orbit. Their design included the “O-ring” that failed on the Challenger shuttle in 1986. In a telecon with NASA the evening before the launch he had convinced his manager to refuse to sign off on the launch approval due to problems associated with inflexibility of the “O-ring” under cold temperatures. After much harassment from NASA, due to pressures of public image after several delayed launches, objections were withdrawn and sign off on the launch was given at a higher level. Boisjoly watched the launch the next morning at the behest of his manager only to be shattered by the resultant mid-air explosion. “Boisjoly spent the rest of the day in his office, not even able to speak when people stopped by to ask how he was doing.”

LeMessurier was a structural engineer who designed the Citicorp tower erected in Manhattan in 1978. After the building was occupied he became aware of a number of construction issues and after investigation he discovered there was a 50/50 chance of the building collapsing due to wind stress that is experienced in Manhattan roughly every 15 years. He could have kept quiet as his firm was partially to blame, however, he spoke out. The building was retrofitted and made safe. His admission lead to praise, not ridicule.


These Risk Leaders, although not one was fully successful in their original quest, show what is required of a strong Risk Leader:


  • Commitment to their firm and staff
  • A mind attuned to identifying and analysing risk
  • A willingness to take the difficult course of action


There are many more Risk Leaders who have not been written about in a book – because their message was heard. When you know something is wrong in your organisation, how far are you willing to push the issue? Do you have the knowledge, understanding and skill to deliver the message? Are you heard?