The disappearance of Malaysia Airlines' <MASM.KL> Flight MH370 about
an hour into its journey to Beijing remained a mystery on Monday as
a search orchestrated by 10 countries failed to find traces of the
plane or the 239 people on board.
It was a blow to Austin, Texas-based Freescale. The vanished
employees were engineers or specialists involved in projects to
streamline and cut costs at key manufacturing facilities in China
Many large companies have policies to prevent chief executives,
chief financial officers and other senior executives from flying
together to minimize disruption in case of a fatal crash, but few
firms extend strict policies much further down the ladder.
Large organizations from corporations to sports franchises almost
never prevent key employees and team members from riding together in
buses, limousines or cars, which are potentially more dangerous than
flying, corporate safety and security experts say.
Even the Manchester United soccer team, which in 1958 lost eight
players after a plane they were on crashed during take-off in
Munich, continues to fly together to games across Europe, as do
professional sports teams around the world.
For global companies organizing sales conferences and moving workers
frequently between sites, fettering employees' travel plans is
impractical and often not worth the inconvenience and potential
extra costs, except in unique cases where their loss would be
catastrophic, the experts say.
"When a lot of people are killed all in one place at one time, we
spend disproportionate emotional focus on that risk:
disproportionate to the probability and to the tradeoffs involved in
any risk management choice, like spreading these guys out and
putting them on a bunch of different airplanes," said David Ropeik,
who writes and consults about risk perception.
The risk of dying in a plane crash differs depending on variables
looked at, like total distance flown versus the number of trips. But
in general, commercial flying is safer than driving, Ropeik said.
Freescale has travel policies covering all of its employees and the
number of workers on the Malaysia Airlines flight fell within
applicable guidelines, said Mitch Haws, the company's vice president
for global communications and investor relations.
Shares of Austin, Texas-based Freescale fell 1.28 percent to $23.09
on Monday. They were down 2.7 percent at one point in early trade.
RIDE WITH ME
The Freescale employees on MH370 were mostly engineers and other
experts working to make the company's chip facilities in Tianjin,
China, and Kuala Lumpur more efficient. They were based in those two
locations and traveled back and forth on a regular basis to work on
different projects, according to the company.
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While they accounted for less than 1 percent of Freescale's 16,800
employees, they were doing specialized work and were part of a broad
push by Chief Executive Officer Gregg Lowe to make Freescale more
"Anybody who travels for a company is a relatively important
individual," said RBC analyst Doug Freedman. "But Freescale has a
deep bench. It has resources it will pull from other places to fill
Letting a number of employees travel together is the norm rather
than the exception for many companies.
Chipmaker Intel <INTC.O> uses private planes to shuttle managers
and executives between offices and factories in California, Oregon
and Arizona. Those fly several times a day, often with more than 35
employees on each flight, and are also seen as ideal opportunities
for executives to network.
Meanwhile, Google <GOOG.O>, Apple <AAPL.O>, Facebook <FB.O> and
other big technology companies operate private buses to shuttle
dozens of employees at a time from their homes in San Francisco to
offices in Silicon Valley, a 50-mile trip. Those buses carry about
17,000 passengers a day back and forth, according to the San
Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency.
Tim Horner, a managing director at Kroll and a specialist in
security consulting, said corporations organizing major sales events
and other employee gatherings should consider a host of
travel-related risks beyond flights.
Some US companies sending employees to the 2014 Winter Olympics in
Sochi worried too much about terrorism and not enough about more
mundane risks like street crime and medical emergencies, he said.
"You also have to realize that this type of tragedy, as horrific it
is, is very infrequent," Horner said of the Malaysian airliner loss.
"This is not something that occurs with any great frequency."
(Reporting by Noel Randewich; edited by
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