Many hold the title of president and CEO, but Paul Mullet of Excel Industries showed what it takes to be a true leader during last week’s tragedy at the company’s plant in Hesston, Kan., where 4 people were killed.

The tragedy began in the late afternoon on Thursday, Feb. 25, where a man, an Excel employee, shot at two people, injuring one, in Newton, Kan., which is about 8 miles from Hesston. He stole their vehicle and drove to Hesston, where he shot another person before proceeding to Excel Industries. He shot one person in the parking lot and entered the building, where he continued shooting, injuring 12 employees and killing 3. A responding police officer entered the plant and shot the man at about 5:45 p.m., according to officials.

The second shift was just beginning and it was estimated that several hundred people were in the plant at the time.

The first news conference happened about 7:30 p.m. Harvey County Sheriff T. Walton gave details of the shootings and answered questions. Mullet was there from the beginning, standing in the background but in sight of the TV cameras, while the officer gave the first details and promised another news conference at 9 p.m.

Mullet appeared again at the 9 p.m. news conference, this time speaking to the media. In terms of crisis management, he did what needed to be done. He was visible as the face and leader of Excel. He expressed sincere condolences, promising to help care for the victims and their families. He also shared a hotline that was established for employees.

"We're going to do what we can to take care of them and bring them through this tragedy,” Mullet said.

He followed up with a longer statement the next morning that included these messages: “Our hearts go out to our employees and their families who are enduring this tragedy. Our first priority has been and will remain the safety and wellness of our employees.”

This was the right thing to do, but, often, the right thing is not easy. And, no leadership seminar or book or even years of experience can prepare a company owner for such a tragedy. Mullet’s response was borne from a sense of responsibility for his employees, no matter what the situation.

We hope Mullet relies on this integrity — and receives wise counsel — as he and his leadership team deal with the aftermath, for the good of his employees and his company. His community is standing behind him, parking lawnmowers in their front yards, with American flags planted beside them.

We at Rural Lifestyle Dealer send our prayers to those who died or were injured, their families and to the employees of Excel Industries.