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Xylem CEO mobilizes company resources to help save Thai soccer team

July 11, 2018  

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As the world prayed for the Thai soccer team trapped in a flooded cave, one of the top water technology firms mobilized its resources to help.

Like everyone, Patrick Decker had been engrossed in the saga of 12 boys and their soccer coach who became trapped in a flooded cave in Thailand. Unlike most, Decker was in a position to do something about it.

As chief executive officer of Xylem Inc., one of the world’s top water technology firms, Decker spent much of last week reaching out to Thai officials and mobilizing his company of 17,000 employees to help. Decker told Bloomberg News he had sent four engineers to the cave site, and they assisted rescuers by boosting pumping power 40 per cent.

Thai Navy SEALs and international cave diving experts extracted eight boys over Sunday and Monday, with the remaining few being rescued Wednesday morning.

“When we heard the boys were found and began to see the visual imagery on TV of the water conditions and what it looked like in the cave, and I saw these hoses with water pouring out of them, I thought, ‘We need to get somebody there to be sure they’re getting maximum water out of these pumps,’” Decker said in an interview with Bloomberg News in Singapore.

The boys and their coach became trapped in the cave system in the country’s north about two weeks ago. After they were located deep in the cavern, Decker reached out to one of the officials leading rescue efforts and got authorization to dispatch his team.

Xylem, which has a market capitalization of about $12 billion, has previously helped in rescue operations after mine collapses in Pennsylvania and Chile. Decker, whose wife is Thai, said the current rescue might be the most complicated, involving tight spaces, low oxygen levels and limited availability of electricity.

Decker sent two employees from Thailand and Singapore to the cave Friday morning for an initial assessment and flew in experts from the U.S. and U.K., who arrived Saturday. They were able to make recommendations on things like changing cabling layout and adjusting the flow of hoses to improve pumping power.

The perilous rescue operation continued Tuesday after a pause, with three Xylem employees on site while air-lifting in new equipment to help boost pumping capacity.

Yesterday, Decker promised that “We’re going to keep people on site until they get everyone out, the boys, the coach and the divers.”

And that promise was made good Wednesday morning, when everyone was brought to safety.

Help had come from around the world, notably from billionaire Elon Musk, who had dispatched a team of engineers.

The journey out included treacherous submerged stretches requiring scuba gear – so treacherous, that one retired Thai Navy SEAL assisting with the operation died Friday after running out of oxygen.

(Bloomberg News)