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How CEOs Improvised In the Wake Of Sandy

Written by The Wall Street Journal
Published: October 30, 2012

When the approach of Hurricane Sandy left Lands' End Chief Executive Edgar Huber stranded on a business trip, he retreated to an impromptu backup headquarters—in his mother-in-law's apartment complex.
The CEO of the Sears Holdings Corp. unit was on his way to conferences in New York when cancellations prompted him to hop an Amtrak train to the Washington, D.C., area and take up residence in a communal entertainment room in the North Bethesda, Md., complex.
He used Wi-Fi to keep up with lieutenants about store closings and other storm-related issues until an outage left him with only his BlackBerry.
Forget the board room. This week, CEOs across the Northeast are managing their companies from the living room. The huge disruptions of transportation and power have displaced senior executives as well as the rank and file, and few have the benefit of the secret backup bunkers set up for government officials.
As a result, CEOs are juggling kids and dwindling battery life as they work to get their firms running again after the storm.
Foot Locker Inc. FL -1.41% CEO Ken Hicks disregarded the shutdown of his New York headquarters on Monday and worked at his office until 3 p.m. Then he picked up the work again six blocks away at his home in Manhattan's Murray Hill neighborhood. When the power went out, he put on iTunes, lit a lantern and did paperwork for another 2½ hours.
"You can be reasonably self-sufficient with a cellphone and a lantern," the CEO says.
On Tuesday morning, he headed to the office again, descending 28 flights of steps to leave his apartment because the power in the area was still out. He couldn't afford to wait for conditions to improve. Foot Locker has a major launch for a new basketball shoe this Saturday—a new set of Nike Inc.'s NKE -0.18% Jordan Retro 9—and hurricane-related disruptions have left his stores with four fewer days to sort out inventory.
Mr. Hicks and his team decided to delay a major shipment of the shoes that was due Monday, and they are rerouting other parts of the supply chain. The chief executive is also still trying to get a sense of how much damage was done to his stores during the storm and when to reopen stores across the Northeast.
Jonathan Hsu, CEO of Recyclebank, spent most of Monday locked inside the third floor of his Manhattan townhouse, also in Murray Hill.
Mr. Hsu closed the West Village offices of his company—which enables people to earn points and rewards for environmentally friendly behavior like recycling or saving energy—and settled in to work from home. That meant juggling a new group of temporary office mates: five-year-old and three-year-old daughters; his wife, who is one week away from giving birth; his parents and his mother-in-law.
Mr. Hsu's strategy for managing his 150-employee company while dealing with the full house? Distract and hide.
Every two to three hours on Monday, the CEO would put on a Disney DIS -0.36% film such as "Rio" or "Tangled" to keep the girls occupied for a few hours, checking on the kids between conference calls.
"They want me to play, so I give them a one-minute brief engagement by playing 'Hurricane' where I pick them up, spin them and then run to the third floor and lock the door," says the former investment banker, who is working in gym shorts and a T-shirt.
On Tuesday, the CEO was without electricity and conserving battery power in case his wife went into labor. He says he didn't get much done because cellphone service was spotty.
David Jaffe, the CEO of Ascena Retail Group Inc., ASNA -0.40% decided to work from his home in New Canaan, Conn., after the parent of the Dressbarn apparel chain closed its Suffern, N.Y., headquarters Monday.
He has a backup power generator but was worried about staying connected to the Internet. During a freak October snowstorm last year, the executive's hometown was without power for more than five days. At one point, he drove for 30 minutes to find a place that had working Wi-Fi so he could send work email.
Kayak Software Corp. KYAK +6.95% co-founder Paul English spent Monday managing from his living room in Arlington, Mass., rather than venturing to the online travel company's Boston office.
He relied on instant messaging and a smartphone to stay connected with his engineers. But electricity was a weak spot.
"I'd be instant messaging with my engineers, and suddenly they'd drop off because they lost power," Mr. English says.
Just a few hours later, he found himself in the dark as well. "I lit some candles and made myself dinner in the dark," he says.
Acorda Therapeutics Inc. ACOR -3.73% CEO Ron Cohen had to reschedule the company's third-quarter earnings announcement to Wednesday and manage the pharmaceutical company from his Irvington, N.Y., home. Making things more challenging, he had to do all this planning without power, without cellphone service and with his two children and their two friends running around his house, he says.
Power in Mr. Cohen's neighborhood went out at 7:38 p.m. Monday, he says. During the night, his cellphone provider stopped providing a signal.
Instead, he says, he has been using the Skype feature on a different device to make calls.
But he is concerned about draining the battery and anticipates having to use a car charger at some point.

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