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Global crises all part of the job for BNY Mellon executive

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Sidney Davis | Tribune-Review
Susan Vismor, of Fox Chapel, the global head of business continuity at Bank of New York Mellon on Friday, Feb, 19, 2016.

Susan Vismor fixes problems.

Vismor, of Fox Chapel, is the global head of business continuity at Bank of New York Mellon.

When a calamity affects any of BNY Mellon’s offices or 50,000 employees around the globe, she helps ensure that people are safe and that the office gets up and running as soon as possible. When heavy rains flooded southern India late last year, she coordinated with people on the ground to ensure employees had food and shelter, and were able to return to work when conditions warranted. She also kept operations going in Japan after a major earthquake damaged the Fukushima I Nuclear Power Plant in 2011.

Vismor has held this role since 2002 but started with the bank in 1981. She recently spoke with the Tribune-Review. Below is an edited transcript.

Trib: When you found out about the flooding in India, who was your first call?

Vismor: I got an email from our operations and systems manager there. He emailed me and said we need to talk. Things are getting bad with the flooding there. So I called him, and it was around 7:15 at night on Tuesday, and I suggested that we invoke our crisis management team. We had a call at 8 that night and went into action.

Trib: What does that mean? Did you fly out there?

Vismor: When there’s a crisis, the airport was closed in Chennai. We actually had two staff that had to be extricated from the airport and went to an Army base where they then could get a car and leave Chennai. You cannot fly in a crisis. Not a good thing to plan for. You’re generally not available.

Trib: So how did you get out there? Did you go?

Vismor: No. I don’t go. What we do, when we’re not having a crisis, is we plan and we prepare and we test and we practice. Every one of our regions, we have a crisis management team that would report up to the overall corporate crisis management team.

Trib: How do you even begin to respond to a massive crisis like that?

Vismor: The first place you start is the welfare of your people. So you account for your people. That is always very hard to do in a disaster situation because a lot of times, phones are not working well. In this situation, we actually had 400 staff that sheltered in place in one of our buildings from Tuesday night to Thursday morning because the water was so high.

Trib: Did they have enough food there?

Vismor: They had packaged food. They had water, and then they had food brought in. But we were worried that they were going to run out.

Trib: Once you establish that people are OK, where does the focus turn to?

Vismor: Then it’s operationally, what is our next deadline? It kind of depends on time of day and what work needs to be done. OK, work’s not getting done in Chennai right now. We’re going to flip that work over to Pune, or we’re going to flip it back over to Pittsburgh. But each of the operational teams have that worked out, and they have specific recovery plans and what we will call cross-regional plans.

Trib: I’m sure with a lot of these situations, people have gone through some traumatic experience. How do you figure out when to bring them back to work?

Vismor: We have human resources on our calls as well; they’re part of our crisis team. They are part of our employee assistance program.

One of the issues we worked with was the Japan earthquake and then the potential fallout from the Fukushima nuclear plant. We had 200 people in Tokyo, and we had recommended that half of them work from home and half of them work in the office. And when we went back later and did lessons learned, we were told that people were insulted that we told them to work from home. That that’s not something very accepted in their culture.

Trib: Is there a crisis that you had to respond to that you found most challenging?

Vismor: They’re all very different. I found the Japanese one that I just talked about to be challenging. They were 12 hours ahead of us. I was on all the calls, so I was working the 12 hours ahead of us shift as well as actually giving updates during the day, so kind of working a double shift for probably a week.

And then it was hard because our people, the government there was telling them everything was fine and there was no danger with the nuclear plant. And we were hearing on the news that there was danger with the plant. And we were trying to tell them what we were hearing on the news, and they were saying that since we weren’t their feet on the floor, we shouldn’t be telling them. It took them about five days to realize that their government wasn’t telling them the truth.

Trib: How do you handle situations like that when the information you have conflicts with the local governments?

Vismor: All we could do is say what we heard, where we heard it. It was on the various news channels. We were dealing with the various managers there, and they were coming back with their comments. But they did change their tune after about five days.

Trib: What’s the most valuable lesson you’ve learned?

Vismor: I think just be open to reading and learning new things all the time. Everything can help you in whatever it is that you have to do. Every day brings a hundred new things that you learn. I’m just learning so much from geography to electricity to technology and people. It just covers everything in a company.

Chris Fleisher is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 412-320-7854 or [email protected].

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