In this episode of our BryghtCast edition of the Managing Uncertainty Podcast for the week of October 7th, 2019, Bryghtpath Principal & CEO Bryan Strawser and Consultant Bray Wheeler take a look at current risks and upcoming events:
- BBC: Russia vows to prevent Turkey-Syria clashes
- NBC News: U.S. troops to withdraw from northern Syria as ISIS supporters escape amid alleged Turkish atrocities
- BBC: Brexit talks continue amid claims deal close
- Star Tribune: Protests around Target Center escalate, from peaceful chants to fire and impasse with police
Bryan Strawser: Hello and welcome to the Managing Uncertainty podcast. This is Brian Strawser, principal and CEO here at Bryghtpath.
Bray Wheeler: This is Bray Wheeler, consultant here at Bryghtpath.
Bryan Strawser: And this is our BryghtCast edition for the week of October 14th, 2019. And I think the biggest story on the minds of most around the world when it comes to large disruptions that are impacting companies and the world, and that is what has gone on over the last several days in Syria following President Trump’s decision to remove the United States from at least northern Syria, although now he’s talking about a broader.
Bray Wheeler: Full-blown.
Bryan Strawser: Full pull out of the country. The details of that remain to be seen, but Bray, what’s happened in Syria over the last couple of days?
Bray Wheeler: Yeah, there’s been a lot of kind of a lot of breakdown in kind of the status quo of what’s going on in Syria. Turkey has moved into the northern border and shaken up quite a bit of the stability in that region. Syria has also reasserted itself also in that area. There’s the potential for kind of a tricky Syria confrontation somewhere in there. Russia has joined in saying that they’ll mediate, they’ll help keep people separate and have cooler heads prevail.
Bryan Strawser: And I think Russia said that they would not allow fighting between Syrian forces and Kurdish forces.
Bray Wheeler: Yeah.
Bryan Strawser: Interesting.
Bray Wheeler: They’ve definitely asserted themselves kind of in that region. Reports are essentially, perspective is that the Russian military has essentially replaced what the US was doing there. However, Russian interests and US interests in that area are very different.
Bryan Strawser: Aren’t the same.
Bray Wheeler: However, that role, they’ve sort of taken the place of the US.
Bryan Strawser: There’s a couple of big complexities going on here. Syria for a long time, prior to the last couple of years was very aligned with Russia and even back to the old Soviet Union in terms of, they were never part of the Iron Curtain or the Warsaw Pact, but they definitely were buying military equipment from the Soviet Union and from Russia. They aligned themselves closely with those interests as opposed to being aligned with those of NATO or the United States. And certainly the Syrian government over the last two presidential administrations, I think we’ve essentially treated as a combatant. We’ve done a lot, the United States has done a lot in that kind of situation and now here’s Russia kind of reasserting themselves in that region in a way that they haven’t over the last couple of years.
Bray Wheeler: Well, and countries like Syria and Iran, those are kind of well within the kind of former Soviet now Russian sort of orbit, even though they’re not kind of direct states or puppet administrations of Russia. But they definitely align themselves with Russia. There is that influence that’s happening within both those countries for a long, long time back to the Soviet Union. But yeah, in Syria there’s a lot of concern around confrontations between the groups.
Bray Wheeler: There are reports over the weekend that kind of troop movements have prompted Kurds to abandon ISIS prison camps, which there have been reports of ISIS members escaping, leaving, even in the thousands some reports are indicating. There are ISIS players back kind of returning to the field. Now, whether they go back to kind of full activity, who knows? I suspect yeah. But a lot of their families have moved into the area to kind of stay outside kind of where they’re being detained and now those families are being forced to flee and things like that as these forces are coming in. There’s just a lot of, there’s a lot of instability, especially in northern Syria right now with all the stuff kind of playing out and kind of the worst, worst fears of what people were saying, kind of being realized, at least reportedly with ISIS being free and Kurdish forces being kind of decimated. Kind of the worst fears is being realized a little bit. It’s contributing to a lot of uncertainty there and especially within Turkey and just the geopolitics of that area is really hot right now.
Bryan Strawser: Well and I think that’s the big question here in terms of at least what we’re focused on in our podcast and that is what does this mean for broader geopolitical instability in the Middle East? What does this mean in terms of allowing ISIS a new safe haven or a new potential to reconstitute themselves? Certainly they’ve taken it in the shorts hard over the last few years going back to the Obama administration’s involvement in dealing with them in Syria.
Bryan Strawser: But I think this, there’s the potential for continued disruption and the growth of ISIS. Reconstitution of ISIS as a terrorist organization. It’s going to have to be carefully monitored and that will have impacts on both the broader geopolitical stability of the Middle East, but also for companies operating in that area. What that means in terms of business operations in Israel, Qatar, Saudi, Kuwait, and other nearby countries.
Bray Wheeler: Well even into Europe, and other Western countries where these folks may be returning or recently freed. That they’ve been off the radar. There’s just a lot of, there’s a lot of uncertainty with kind of these developments. We kind of got to a status quo kind of with the ISIS and the terror front a little bit that, things felt somewhat under control for the moment. Now, the kind of the eight balls has been shaken up on that.
Bryan Strawser: What’s next?
Bray Wheeler: Next Brexit discussions are happening. Kind of early this week at least we’ll see how the rest of the week plays out between the UK and the European Union. They’re having more formal discussions around what that looks like. Particularly kind of around the legal documentation of the different moves.
Bryan Strawser: The deal.
Bray Wheeler: The deal.
Bryan Strawser: The deal.
Bray Wheeler: And there was the deadline from the EU, I believe…
Bryan Strawser: It’s today.
Bray Wheeler: This evening.
Bryan Strawser: Yeah, we’re recording this on Tuesday the 15th, you’ll hear this on Wednesday the 16th but the deadline I believe from the EU for a negotiated exit is today.
Bray Wheeler: And in the Queen’s speech, which she gave, was it yesterday?
Bryan Strawser: Yesterday.
Bray Wheeler: Kind of reaffirms which…
Bryan Strawser: And to be clear the Queen’s speech is written by the government. She doesn’t have any say in it.
Bray Wheeler: She’s kind of the mouthpiece a little bit for kind of reciting that based on tradition. They held the kind of government’s position and the Queen’s speech was they held firm to, hey, we’re leaving, we’re leaving the EU on October 31st, 2019. Which didn’t give, it doesn’t give a whole lot of wiggle room in terms of negotiations and some of the other political developments that have been happening in the UK in terms of trying to kind of negotiate or reach a deal. It’s another kind of move by Johnson to kind of assert that I don’t really care what happens. We’re leaving on October 31st however that works, we’re leaving.
Bryan Strawser: There’s a couple of challenges going on there too. Despite, there’s the issue of Johnson has not been able to hold his, I started to say caucus, but that’s not the right term. He hasn’t been able to hold his members together in his current coalition. His own party has voted against him on a number of these things. He lost the first three votes that he brought to the floor of the House of Commons. There’s also the issue of, the EU is pretty much done with negotiation, although there seems to be some positivity in the communication we’re seeing today. Maybe there will be a deal of some type that allows for this.
Bryan Strawser: The other complication for Johnson is they’re headed for a general election. He said he wants a general election. There’s some point they’re going to call one here or they’re going to hit the statutory limit on the number of years the parliament can be in session without an election. That will have a play on what happens with Brexit. It’ll be interesting to see how this plays out. The continued, I won’t say it’s instability because I don’t think it’s that the government is not stable. Maybe the current ruling coalition is unstable, but there’s a lot of uncertainty in the UK about what all of this means.
Bryan Strawser: They did come out though however, just to touch on something we spoke about earlier on a previous episode around immigration, that there will be an EU settlement scheme. If you’re in the country, you can apply to stay in the country. They will not be forcibly evacuating or exiting people. But there’s still, like for my fellow students at King’s College, there’s still a lot of uncertainty about short and long term study visas if they’re not already there. For folks in my particular course who study distance learning, it remains very uncertain what that means for the EU residents and others.
Bray Wheeler: Well and I’m sure part of that is the intent of that is kind of political, kind of not appeasement but kind of an olive branch out to some of that stuff to try and advance some of the other portions of the Brexit discussion. Kind of alleviates the concerns there. Because that definitely is the most kind of confusing as well as kind of impactful kind of piece, at least at the outset for individuals.
Bray Wheeler: the Last item we have, we just want to kind of take some time to just kind of talk around the Trump rally that was held here locally in Minneapolis over the past week. Last week, late last week and not necessarily to go into the kind of politics and those pieces of it.
Bryan Strawser: We are staying out of the politics of this issue.
Bray Wheeler: We are walking away from that but just wanted to talk about just from a pure kind of political rally kind of protest standpoint, kind of the impact and the things that companies were doing here at least locally to kind of mitigate some of the disruptions to their operations as well as just safety and kind of general preparedness that they had.
Bryan Strawser: And I think to set the stage for this, the rally was held at Target Center, which is a basketball arena that seats about 20,000 folks. It is right in the middle of downtown Minneapolis. The airport, Minneapolis, St. Paul International Airport is where the President, and ironically the Vice President was also here in town for a different event and appeared at the rally, they flew into the airport on Air Force One and Air Force Two, separate travel. The VP was in much earlier in the day. I’d say the airport is roughly six miles from downtown Minneapolis.
Bray Wheeler: Yeah, something like that. It’s pretty close.
Bryan Strawser: It’s more like 10 miles in terms of driving because of how you enter and exit the airport. And so what we saw with the rally and the events surrounding the rally is that the Twin Cities are very much a blue part of the state. There was a significant amount of protestors who were protesting the President’s appearance and then there were about 20,000 plus rally attendees, is what I believe is what’s been communicated. I would say there was roughly an equivalent number of protesters, but I never saw an official count.
Bray Wheeler: I haven’t either.
Bryan Strawser: And the police established, there was obviously a perimeter around Target Center and there were streets that were blocked off to allow the motorcade unimpeded access in and out of the facility. But otherwise the police I thought did a fairly good job of providing space nearby to protest and then managing those protests. There was the normal, bottle-throwing and some allegations of too much force and a couple of things. Police had bicycles and the horses and all the usual kind of things you see at big protests. It went on. But what we want to talk about is companies. There are a number of Fortune 500 organizations based here in the Twin Cities, including Target, Wells Fargo, US Bank, Ameriprise Financial, I’m trying to think who else is downtown, but there’s a lot of Fortune 500 companies. Xcel Energy and others that are downtown and they’re all in the central business district, which is where Target Center is and where the protests were. Bray, what did we hear from some of our clients that were in the downtown area?
Bray Wheeler: Yeah, kind of the main pieces that we were kind of hearing from clients was really the option to have folks work from home. There was a lot of kind of indications of don’t come in if you don’t have to. Particularly on rally day, which I believe was Thursday, don’t come in, stay home, work remotely, leave early, avoid kind of that portion of this kind of the city, the downtown area, those sorts of things. But there was also a lot of just communication around, hey what’s going on? Expectations, things like that. A lot of kind of the normal kind of precautionary things, which I think especially now heading, this is as Bryan you kind of mentioned earlier, this rally by a Republican president kind of held in a very kind of Democratic part of Minnesota.
Bray Wheeler: There’s a little bit more of those confrontations and things like that that were being played out here. At least locally in the news. But I think heading into, we’re now heading really into being 13 months out, the 2020 election season. These sorts of things are to happen more frequently over the next 13 months just based on the nature of the politics of the country and what normally happens with these things. And then probably given a little bit more of, there are some heightened passions on either side, that these potential for more of a disruptive kind of environment to take place, especially in downtown areas, especially in these kinds of high traffic spots. And I think thinking about that in 2020 and those approaches to, hey, we’re probably going to be seeing these in a lot of these areas, certainly at the convention locations, things like that, which is a whole different level of disruption.
Bray Wheeler: But just for these rallies and things like that, companies really need to start kind of thinking about what they want their approach to be in terms of maintaining operations, but also just keeping people safe, minimizing kind of the disruption and the noise that happens with some of that stuff.
Bryan Strawser: I think, we’ve encouraged clients for a while and I think we’ve even recorded some podcast episodes on this about major events and protests and things like that. We really encourage companies to think about as an ongoing process, what’s normal look like in terms of physical security procedures? What does a heightened set of security, kind of like your orange, what does that look like in terms of how you physically protect your building? And what does red look like? What does it look like if you need to secure the place and only allow employees into the location? What does that look like?
Bryan Strawser: And then you can start to think about what triggers that increase in the threat level and thus increases how you approach the physical security of your structure. I think companies in Minneapolis have had a chance to practice this, so to speak, because we had the Superbowl here in 2018 and a lot of companies had to do this. In the run-up to game day, they really kind of went to that orange stage and they secured their entrances and they did some different things. They only allowed employees in the lobby and that kind of thing. And then on game day, which of course is Sunday, so a lot of them aren’t open anyway, they kind of went to red. We’re shut down, we’re going to secure the facility, we’re not going to have people working here just to avoid all of the different issues and the target, so to speak, that the Superbowl can be.
Bryan Strawser: I think that’s a good graduated way to think about this. When you get to a presidential rally and there’s going to be protests, you can put your building on the orange level and say, “This is how we’re going to approach this. And then here are some additional things we might tweak for that particular situation.” But I think there’s so much potential anymore for companies to be the target of protests or there to be other major events in a city that spelling this out in that way and then the team is just used to, yeah, we’re going to be at a heightened threat level, so we’re at orange, so I know that these things are in place.
Bray Wheeler: Well I think you raised a couple of good points in terms of for companies that aren’t located here within the Minneapolis area, think about those events that your city’s held you over the last 10, 11 years and what your company’s done to kind of protect. Minneapolis has been fortunate. As you said, the Superbowl, here last year as well as the 2014 All-Star Game. We had the 2008 Republican convention here, so there’s been a lot of big moments here in Minneapolis that have allowed some of these corporations to kind of practice. Companies out in other cities, think about those moments and what you did, what worked, what didn’t work. Go back and refresh yourself against those because those things don’t happen all the time. As well as, maybe some of the more minor protests, but really go back and kind of think and strategize about what you learned, what worked, what didn’t work, what’s changed in your organization since that moment. But yeah, it’s definitely a kind of moment, especially now just to kind of start thinking about what that looks like in your area and what you need to be prepared for.
Bryan Strawser: And some of you, your cities are just laid out differently. I think about Philadelphia where the sports arenas are not downtown. They’re out by the airport, they’re isolated in the middle of big parking lots. These kinds of events happening at one of those facilities doesn’t really impact the way it does in a metro area like doing a political convention in Boston as I experienced in 2004. Where the center, where the Celtics and Bruins plays is right smack in the middle of the city, in the financial district. Or here in Minneapolis where all of the sports arenas except for hockey are in downtown Minneapolis and the Minnesota Wild are right in downtown St. Paul. Actually, they’re right by Ecolab’s corporate headquarters, speaking of the Fortune 50. There’s a lot of challenges around this in some cities.
Bray Wheeler: Well and I think to your point, it’s one of those things and to your earlier point too, companies have to, you have a large group of people potentially coming into your area for either a protest, supportive protest, counter-protest, whatever the case is. But guess what? That’s a large influx of people and a lot of times they’re coming from around the country or even locally, and you have a captive audience for your kind of issue set. Your company may be in the crosshairs of that group as well. Hey, we’re actually here for this event, but guess what? We have 100 people that can show up on your doorstep to talk about the thing that we’re kind of nagging you about. Now we can protest outside your door.
Bray Wheeler: Even in places like the Philadelphia or New York or Kansas City or something like that, you have an influx of people. It’s very easy for them to migrate early, after, during to one of your locations. Keeping current on what your kind of issue set is for protest activity is also going to be beneficial kind of heading into the year to understand what other issues may or opportunities may knock on your door for these protestors.
Bryan Strawser: That’s it for this edition of the Managing Uncertainty podcast. Tune in on Monday when we’ll have a new episode focused on an interesting topic, business continuity, crisis management, and global risk. Hope to see you then.