Vanessa Vaughn survived a tornado and wants to help others do it too—although a bit more figuratively and at the company level. Would you know what to do if your company’s greatest assets were suddenly unavailable? Asfalis serves its customers as business longevity partners to help identify risk and create ways to innovate out of it. “Crisis management” has never been more critical.
Russ: Hi I’m Russ Capper and this is BusinessMakers USA, brought to you by Insperity, inspiring business performance. Checking in today from Charlotte, North Carolina and I’m pleased to have as my guest Vanessa Vaughn, Founder and Chief Resilience Officer with Asfalis. Vanessa welcome to the BusinessMakers USA show.
Vanessa: Thank you; thanks for having me.
Russ: You bet. Tell us about Asfalis.
Vanessa: Asfalis is actually the Greek word for secure and we serve with our customers as business longevity partners and help them to identify risks, but also help them create opportunities to innovate their way out of risks. We do that through crisis management and business continuity training, planning and consulting.
Russ: When I researched you company and I came over crisis management I was stuck on that because that can get pretty serious right?
Russ: And you’re a specialist at handling that right?
Russ: And how long have you been a specialist at crisis management?
Vanessa: I’ve been in the industry for 11 years. My career started on the government side so I did anything from local, state to federal organizations; anything from terrorism mitigation planning to long term housing planning with local and county governments. I transitioned over to the corporate side and had an opportunity to really understand how do you manage a crisis for a corporation, but then also how do you help them to continue business if their primary assets are not available?
Russ: When did you found and start Asfalis?
Vanessa: 2014, October
Russ: I’m just curious, that’s a heady area crisis management; what about it interested you?
Vanessa: So 9 years ago I was in my car in Atlanta, GA, it was a beautiful Friday afternoon and long story short I was in a tornado with wind speeds exceeding 130mphs. I create crisis.
Russ: And you said I like this, I’m going to get into this business.
Vanessa: Let’s get more! So this tornado actually picked up my car, it totaled my vehicle while I was inside of it, a brick building crumbled to pieces, lots of things happened. At the time I was studying Homeland Security and Emergency Management, so I was getting the background of the policy and the education behind what we do and I actually went to work in the industry because I wanted to help the city of Atlanta to better communicate to its residence when things like that happen.
Russ: Wow, real interesting. I want to get into Asfalis but before I do, do you really like this category that you work in?
Vanessa: I really do. I enjoy it because one of the things I like about it is our training aspect. We work a lot with senior leadership team members who oftentimes make their employees uncomfortable, whether it’s the title or the role or the position. But when they come to our classroom we get to make them uncomfortable. They have to think about things that they haven’t always thought about, but more importantly they get to become aware of the things that are happening within the organization, and then we help them to develop strategies to mitigate those risks.
Russ: Since you’ve had your own company have you already had significant crisis to deal with?
Vanessa: Great question. I’ve seen so much in my career, from airplane crashes to sugar refinery explosions to fires, supply chain disruptions and of course most recently we’re dealing with some issues relating to #metoo. So the sexual abuse and misconduct that’s running rampant, not just in corporate but in all types of industries. And so we’re helping companies to become more aware of it’s a culture issue and if we allow this behavior to continue it speaks volumes to the employees and the customers and it causes reputational damages.
Russ: Do you get called in to both companies that have had an issue with a leader and companies that don’t think they’ve had an issue but they just want to make sure that they fix the culture before something does happen.
Vanessa: Yeah, so we typically meet customers from three categories. It’s either before the crisis because I’m very prepared, it’s in the middle of the crisis – something happened and I need your help now, or it’s after the crisis – after hurricane Harvey, after hurricane Irma I had to shut down the factory, I’ve had to lay employees off, I’ve lost $10 million in revenue but hey I’m still going to live on the coast so can you please help us because we don’t want this to happen again next year.
Russ: Wow, so you can stop hurricanes.
Vanessa: If I could do that!
Russ: This is a business show so has your business been growing?
Vanessa: It has. The key for our business is definitely relationships and being in Charlotte it’s definitely a relationship town, so that’s something that has been something that we’ve grown in to. I actually moved to Charlotte 4 years ago when I started the company so I’m new to the area. But the opportunity and the small business world and the community is very open and I tell people you’ve got to be strapped to your bed with a lock on your door if you’re now out meeting people in Charlotte because we’re accessible. It’s not like a bigger market where you can’t access the people who you really need to actually talk to, in Charlotte you can do that.
Russ: Well that’s neat. So how many employees do you have to date?
Vanessa: We work with a team of 10. Most of them are contractors and they range from corporate security to crisis communications to information security because all of those types of things – data breaches, supply chain disruptions, active shooters – all of those things are what we get calls for. So we like to have some type of expertise in those different fields. And then also on the business continuity side many of our customers are regulated, so I’m required to have a business continuity program and I have to report back to the board so we have to make sure that our consultants are certified and they maintain those certifications.
Russ: So you’re a specialist, you’re a professional, but sometimes the company that you’re working for might not like what you’re suggesting. Have you ever had that happen?
Vanessa: Absolutely. No one ever likes to see us, especially when they’re in the middle of their own crisis.
Russ: Sure, yeah. But I guess at the end of the day you say here’s what I would recommend strongly and if they don’t follow you’ve at least given them the recommendations. Is that the way it works?
Vanessa: I always tell people it’s in my best duty to provide you with the facts, with the data, with the analysis and with our recommendation, right? We take the collaborative approach. I never like to come into a company and tell you what you should do because I don’t know your business. You’re an expert in your business, we’re an expert in crisis management and business continuity, but when we work together we figure out the best solutions.
So typically we don’t run into that as a challenge but we also do ask the leadership teams that we’re working with give us the autonomy to do what we do best and if you don’t take the recommendation that’s fine. Oftentimes we’ll say hey, if you don’t take this recommendation then you may experience a $5 million loss per day. If you’re a billion dollar company you may not care, but if you’re a $20 million company $5 million is a lot of money. So sometimes they may take the recommendation.
Russ: Hopefully you can share with us what was a very challenging issue – crisis – that you managed and it came out successfully.
Vanessa: A former client actually was in the middle of testing out a flagship aircraft and it crashed and killed four of its employees, very tragic, very traumatic, but what I noticed about this organization it was how they responded that made the difference. So we actually had built a crisis management plans and their programs, their communication policies. The CEO got into this room – which we call emergency operations center or a war room and that’s really where people go to work in the middle of a crisis – and they were pulling together the plans, how do we respond, what are we providing the employees? What about the shareholders, the vendors, the suppliers, right?
So they used everything that we had already done and all the work that we built to really better manage the crisis, but more importantly how do we hold ourselves accountable for letting it happen? Where was the breakdown in communication? And where was the safety and the quality checks and what didn’t we do that caused this as a problem? And what I noticed is that they didn’t lose market share, their reputation increased even after that and their customers never pulled out of that aircraft.
I may have been scared to buy an airplane again but we were able to help them understand how we make sure that we hold ourselves accountable but then also rebuild trust and rebuild the brand so that customers are remaining loyal, but also that our products are safe and they’re doing what they’re supposed to be doing.
Russ: Real interesting. So I guess that was a long period from when the crash happened till it looked like okay, we’re coming out okay?
Vanessa: Absolutely, absolutely. You have to let go of some people, change some policies but also it’s a culture shift because if we’re not operating right from a safety and a quality perspective then that’s a culture issue so we’ve got to change that.
Russ: So how did you prepare for this? What’s your educational background?
Vanessa: My undergraduate degree is in Homeland Security and Emergency Management. After 9/11 and hurricane Katrina George W. Bush put in place the Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Emergency Management Agency so I’m actually the first female in the state of Georgia with that degree. I transitioned and decided to get certified because I wanted to understand corporate and so I got Certified Business Continuity Planner which just means that I can learn a lot. And then lastly I got my Masters in Business Administration to really give me a better perspective and a more well-rounded view of business and how do I tie in the industry knowledge plus the business side.
Russ: I kind of feel like you really like what you do, right?
Vanessa: A little bit.
Russ: Vanessa I really appreciate you sharing your story with us today, it’s really cool.
Vanessa: Thank you.
Russ: You bet. And that wraps my discussion with Vanessa Vaughn, the Founder and Chief Resilience Officer for Asfalis. And this is BusinessMakers USA, brought to you by Insperity.