Private, For-Profit, Company Fighting Ebola Successfully

Does it surprise me that Firestone Corporation earned this headline for their work fighting Ebola successfully in Liberia?

Yes and no.


I was surprised that the tire-making company is still in Liberia. I was there as a missionary-child and remember the fields of rubber trees that were harvested by the company. I assumed that they were driven out during the coup and then the ensuing years of chaos and bloodshed.

My assumption was wrong. Rubber was still needed by the world market and Firestone managed to stay in the country.

So, now that I know that… of course I am not surprised at all. To still be in Liberia requires amazing survival abilities. Naturally, these same abilities would be available to combat Ebola.

And that is exactly what is happening.

According to “How Firestone Shut Ebola Down.”

You know all the gnashing of teeth about how terrible the global response to the Ebola outbreak has been? Maybe someone should check with Firestone. As NPR reports, the tiremaker runs a rubber plantation and basically the entire town of Harbel, outside Monrovia, Liberia. And when an employee’s wife turned up with the virus on March 30, Firestone Liberia’s managing director says they “went into crisis mode”: Upon discovering that there was nowhere to treat her, the company turned to the Internet for help in treating Ebola itself. Within a day, they had an Ebola ward. Within two, the woman was quarantined. They handed medical workers hazmat suits to prevent the virus’ spread.

“None of us had any Ebola experience,” says the director, but NPR notes that they did have what everywhere else in the region did not: The muscle and resources that a major corporation can harness. The woman died, but not one of Firestone’s roughly 8,500 employees and 71,500 family members contracted the virus. Months passed, and when the virus rampaged through the area in August, Firestone stepped up to the plate: It expanded the isolation ward, built an annex and quarantine centers, and sent out-of-work teachers (schools had been shut down) to go door-to-door and educate. Janitors were taught how to properly bury the dead, notes the Wall Street Journal.

[See also, “Oakland Hires Private Security to Deal with Lack of Police Protection.”]

There are some heroic people at Firestone, and there are heroic people working in “public health” for various governments. But if you want to know why Firestone has such success, you only need to think about the difference in motivation and culture. Firestone exists because they make a product that people want. They hire people who can be useful to that end and those people in turn know that their livelihood depends on productive labor.

That is simply not the culture that develops in a government bureaucracy.

So when it comes to dealing with a health crisis, the people of Firestone know they have to do their best to save lives and, in so doing, their livelihoods.

Private companies get things done. The best governments can do is try to imitate them.