How Companies Battle Crises, Part 2

Annin flagmakers at work post-9/11. "We felt that providing as many U.S. flags as possible was how we could help our country deal with the magnitude of this tragedy."

Second in a series. Leave it to Kurt Vonnegut to nail the truth: “History is merely a list of surprises. It can only prepare us to be surprised yet again.” At, we encourage clients to chronicle how they have faced crises. Trials by fire reveal turning points, lessons learned, and what the culture is really made of. This month we focus on two additional companies whose histories we’ve written, and we revisit Clorox , this time as a pandemic responder. It strikes us that coordinated planning and response is the antidote to chaos, no surprise to emergency responders and crisis preparedness teams.

Annin Flagmakers rose to unprecedented demands post-9/11. Annin has provided U.S. flags throughout every war and tragedy since its founding in 1847, when one of its first orders came from the U.S. Army fighting the Mexican War. But 9/11 was different. Demand kicked in that morning in 2001 and soon rose tenfold. Annin maximized production by quickly procuring raw materials, limiting output to two standard sizes, and manufacturing for 20 hours a day, including weekends. It distributed the products fairly without becoming profiteers: Leadership didn’t even consider raising prices during what would proved to be a nine-month shortage. And they soundly rejected offers to distribute foreign-made goods: “We may not have enough flags, but we believe the U.S. flag should be made by U.S. manufacturers.”

American Water helped to restore a barrier island breached by Superstorm Sandy (2012-2013). New Jersey American Water’s Coastal North section worked for six months to restore water service to a severed barrier island that had lost its water main, houses, roads, and hydrants. The group labored seven days a week without a single injury, always in tandem with other utilities. American Water’s Global Information System literally helped towns to lay out their streets again after physical geological survey markers were washed away. And when town fathers understandably became impatient, American Water was the one that had to say, “Before you start bringing people onto this island, before you put gas back into the gas mains and flip on the switches for electricity, we have to have water in those hydrants in case a fire breaks out.” This coordinated effort by dedicated teams restored public safety.

During COVID-19, The Clorox Company remains at the forefront of public health. The company’s consumer home page places the crisis front and center, dispensing reliable information and separating fact from fiction about the use of disinfecting products. In addition, The Clorox Company Foundation has granted $5 million to three organizations on the front lines of fighting coronavirus: Direct Relief, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Foundation’s Emergency Response Fund, and the American Red Cross. The donations will directly go toward “care for the caregivers.”

You can read more about these clients and their books in the portfolio pages of Until next month, health and strength to all.