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MARK AUSTIN THOMAS: Hurricane Katrina claimed a lot of lives. It also destroyed homes and careers. Something it didn’t destroy was the loyalty of one New Orleans company towards its employees. Entergy is the city’s main provider of electricity. Katrina leveled the company’s headquarters a year ago, forcing it to move to Mississippi. Last year we sent reporter Dan Grech there to see how the company and its workers were doing. Recently Dan revisited the company which is now back in New Orleans. He says Entergy is enjoying the benefits of the commitment it made to its employees.
DAN GRECH: After Hurricane Katrina flooded its downtown New Orleans headquarters, Entergy was forced to relocate 1,500 people.
Within days the company moved to the old Worldcom building in Clinton, Mississippi. It offered displaced workers free therapy, day care, even rental cars. And it paid for fully furnished apartments for employees and their families for up to 11 months.
Wayne Leonard is Entergy’s Chairman and CEO.
WAYNE LEONARD:“One of the most important things management has to do is to make sure that people understand that they are supported by the corporation through the good and the bad times. Nothing destroys the human spirit faster than anxiety.”
Leonard is a film buff. Just before Christmas, he sent the company’s 14,000 employees a DVD of The Wizard of Oz.
DAN PACKER:“Our homes were destroyed and we were trying to get back to ’em and he was reminding us that there’s no place like home. And that was really an inspiration to help us get there.”
That’s Dan Packer, CEO of Entergy’s New Orleans unit.
Since Katrina, the New Orleans utility lost half its customers and took nearly $1 billion in damage.
It hasn’t settled with insurance, it hasn’t gotten federal help, it was forced to declare bankruptcy.Any yet key players management worried might leave, didn’t.
Turnover, in fact, has dropped since Katrina, to about one percent a year.
Shortly after the hurricane, I interviewed Didara Franklin at Entergy’s temporary headquarters in Mississippi. Here’s what she said after two harrowing weeks away from work.
DIDARA FRANKLIN: “It’s like an extended family, somebody to come back to. It was like I was missing something all that time I was gone.”
Now, a year later I spoke to Franklin back at the company’s New Orleans headquarters, where they returned in April. Her enthusiasm for Entergy hasn’t faded.
FRANKLIN: “They’re playing a role as kind of a father figure for all of the employees here. It’s like your father takes care of you. And I think that’s what Entergy tries to do for its employees.”
CEO Wayne Leonard says he’s stayed up nights worrying that his overworked, stressed out, exhausted workforce would crack.
LEONARD:“At some point everybody gets to the point where you can’t take any more. And they never got there. 99 percent of our employees, here we are. We’re in hurricane season again and if something bad happens, they’re ready to go.”
From New Orleans, I’m Dan Grech for Marketplace.
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