Boss's sense of duty makes him a hero
Your shift is over; it's time for you to go home," the boss said to the employee. "I'm here to take your place." But this was no ordinary changing of the guard on the factory floor. The boss was Alberta businessman Norbert Reinhart. The employee was Ed Leonard, of Creston, British Columbia, who had been on the job at a gold exploration site in Colombia when guerrillas took him hostage for ransom June 24. After negotiations had dragged on fruitlessly for some months, Mr. Reinhart offered himself as a hostage in exchange for Mr. Leonard. After three months and a controversial ransom payment, his captors released him last Saturday. Reinhart's bold gesture on behalf of his employee has captured the imaginations of Canadians as an act of courage and heroism. Ian Buchanan, an ethics consultant in Toronto, puts Reinhart's deed in explicitly Christian terms: "That's what Jesus would do. That's true servant leadership." "This is a case of acting on principle, putting values into action," says Michael Deck, another consultant in business ethics in Toronto. "This fellow's action certainly reflects his understanding that the people working for him are not 'human resources,' they're people. His obligation to them is not cleared by a paycheck." Speaking of the risks inherent in work such as exploring for gold in an area controlled by guerrillas, Mr. Deck continues, "Economic theory tells us this is all factored in when you make your decision to sell your labor for X dollars; well, it isn't." Questions, however, have been raised about whether Reinhart's firm, Terramundo Drilling, or Vancouver-based Greystar Resources Ltd., which hired Terramundo as a subcontractor, had the kidnap and ransom insurance customarily carried by players in high-risk mineral-exploration ventures like this. Some observers have suggested that because Leonard's kidnapping was evidently not covered by the customary insurance, Reinhart would have been personally liable if something untoward had happened to Leonard. In addition, a ransom was paid on Reinhart's behalf - $100,000 as he went in, plus $70,000 as he came out of captivity - although details are vague, and the sums are significantly down from the guerrillas' reported "asking price" of $2.5 million. Payment of ransom almost inevitably sparks concerns from governments and others that terrorists will only be encouraged to continue kidnapping. In this case, Greystar and Terramundo Drilling were developing a site near Angostura, Colombia. The territory is controlled by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), which has been waging guerrilla war against the Colombian government for nearly 40 years. Reinhart, however, evidently played down the threat posed by the guerrillas in his prehire interview with Leonard. Leonard said in a subsequent press interview, "He told me that the rebel situation had been looked after, and I think that's what must have made him feel as if he was responsible [for the kidnapping.]" The Reinhart-Leonard saga has played out here in stark contrast to what may be described as another human-resources story: Bell Canada has announced that it is selling its operator division to an American firm expected to consolidate its work force into one location and cut wages an estimated 40 percent. This deal will leave some 2,400 operators, many of them longtime employees, facing a choice between losing a job and taking a pay cut, and having to move besides. Deck did not name Bell, but observed, "Employees, especially longtime employees, make an investment [in working for their employers], and it's a capital investment. There's this theory that the only people with uncontracted risk are shareholders. I don't find that persuasive." Reinhart was low-key in his descriptions of his 94 days in captivity. The worst part, he said, "was being incommunicado," not being in touch with family and friends. Ethics consultant Mr. Buchanan expresses regret that media concern over the money paid has begun to cloud appreciation for the heroism of Reinhart's deed. "Where in business today do you find an employer willing to do that ... to lay down a life for a friend?"