England’s football community has united in shock and grief with Leicester City FC, following the death of the club’s owner Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha in a helicopter crash on Saturday 27 October. In the 48 hours following the tragedy, Leicester fans gathered outside the club’s ground the King Power Stadium to console each other and lay floral tributes.
The organisation that Mr Srivaddhanaprabha had installed at the club during his tenure had proven hugely popular among supporters, with many noting in the aftermath of the crash how friendly and kind the Thai billionaire had been to them – even purchasing season tickets for some fans – and how engaged he was in local charitable causes. As experts work to determine the precise circumstances behind the crash, Mr Srivaddhanaprabha’s firm King Power Duty Free will be reeling from a body blow and directing its resources to coping with the sudden loss of a respected figurehead.
There are tragic similarities between the crash and the death of British businessman Richard Cousins, who was killed in Australia on New Year’s Eve 2017 when a seaplane in which he and family members had been travelling came down in the Hawkesbury River near the Sydney suburb of Cowan.
Mr Cousins had been planning to step down as chief executive of catering empire Compass Group in March 2018, and then retire completely from the firm six months later. However, following his death, Compass took the decision to accelerate a succession plan under which group chief operating officer Dominic Blakemore had been earmarked to take over in April 2018. Instead, Mr Blakemore took the helm on 2 January. 
Cousins was a widely respected figure in the catering industry, who had effected a turnaround at Compass by pulling it out of 30 countries in which it had failed to scale or make significant profits.  Under his reign, the firm had reduced its debt and grown its share value seven-fold. 
While a readymade succession plan had clearly helped Compass to recover, which other factors do firms faced with such tragic circumstances have to consider as they try to restore normality – particularly in terms of diffusing the sense of shock that many employees, at every level, are likely to feel?
The Institute of Leadership & Management's head of research, policy and standards Kate Cooper says: “One powerful approach that King Power could take is to gather in all of its experience and knowledge of Mr Srivaddhanaprabha and think about what he would want them to do to preserve his legacy. That will provide the company with a ‘magnetic north’ for how to conduct itself going forward, ensuring that it continues to embody the values to which its business partners and subsidiaries, including Leicester City FC, have grown accustomed. That approach could also influence the company’s choice of successor, helping it to be really discerning and exacting about who it appoints to take over.”
Turning to the broader effects of grief upon a workforce, Cooper notes: “when bereavement impacts upon anyone at work, it is significant and important. If you take a holistic view of your employees, you have to understand that, for some staff, a sense of loss can be not just upsetting, but quite devastating. As leaders, it’s not for us to judge, in each individual case, what that impact ‘should’ be. For example, we shouldn’t draw up benchmarks saying that it’s okay to grieve heavily if you have lost a close family member, but not if you have lost a pet that may have been your life companion. Grief affects different employees in different ways – and for a host of different reasons.”
She explains: “all an employer can do is to put things in place that will help to take the weight of that grief. A number of specialist organisations can provide counselling services to staff – either in person, or over the phone – and indeed ACAS has made available a free, best-practice guide  that will help leaders to address this complex terrain in an empathic way. The crucial point to bear in mind is that there is no overreaction – there is simply a reaction, with varying degrees of severity.”
Cooper adds: “we may find out little about how the UK-based King Power infrastructure chooses to deal with the impact of this shocking incident. It may prefer to keep its coping strategy as private as possible. But a sensitive and caring handling of its employees at this testing time will send a strong message to Leicester City FC and its supporters that Mr Srivaddhanaprabha’s values continue to resonate at the heart of the firm.”
For further thoughts on aligning values, check out these learning resources from the Institute
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