Hurricane Harvey and the 'Texas Way' of helping

Few Americans are indifferent to Texas, with admirers (like me) probably outnumbering the haters, found in particularly large numbers in states like California that have been losing jobs and residents to Texas.  But even the haughtiest critics of the Lone Star State have to be impressed that Texas is demonstrating stunning leadership in countering the impact of Hurricane Harvey.

The countless inspiring volunteers already have demonstrated qualities of altruism, bravery, and gutsy persistence that even the most effete coastal elites have to admire in their hearts.  Disaster of this magnitude speaks to parts of the mind and the soul that operate in the unconscious as well as conscious parts of cognition.  The imaginary rugged, macho, swaggering Texan of coastal prejudice turns out to be exactly the kind of guy or gal you can rely on when it counts.

But there is another level to the story that is equally heroic and potentially mind-changing when it comes to understanding the Texas Way.  Progressives, a group that I'd wager tends to have more unfavorable attitudes toward Texas than the general population, regard corporations as inherently selfish.  To them, the overt pursuit of profit taints the institution itself.

That being the case, progressives have no way at all of understanding why the largest grocery chain in Texas mobilized, improvised, organized, and pulled out all the stops in getting vital supplies to people who needed them, even during the floods.  Chip Cutter, managing editor of, has written an inspiring account of the way H.E.B. responded to Harvey.  Read the whole thing.

At a time when retail watchers question the future of brick-and-mortar stores due to Amazon's continued ascendance, the 112-year-old retailer is drawing widespread praise after managing to open 60 of its 83 stores in Houston last Sunday, hours after Hurricane Harvey slammed into Texas as a Category 4 storm. (Now, 79 of the 83 stores are open.)

When employees couldn't get to work, some stores still operated with as few as five people: one stationed at the door as crowd control and four working the registers, trying to get people out as quickly as possible. (snip)

I spoke with Scott McClelland, a 27-year H-E-B veteran who is president of the chain's Houston division. For much of the week, he had worked from 5 a.m. to 9:30 p.m., with days blurring together.

The behind-the-scenes operation, as he told me, is a complicated dance involving multiple command centers, a helicopter, private planes, military style vehicles and frequent calls to suppliers, urging them to send toilet paper – and to skip the Funyuns.

Scott McClelland with Houston residents displaced by this week's storm.  Via

There is a lot of interesting detail on how the company made a logistical miracle happen.  Everyone did everything he could, in essence.  But the details are what matter.

H.E.B. is headquartered in San Antonio, which was not impacted, an advantage in coordinating the response.  It also partakes in the uniquely intense identity as Texan that permeates the state and its people.  I love visiting different parts of Texas and observing the many visible symbols of that devotion.  The state flag is everywhere.  The Lone Star motif is everywhere.  The pride in the identity of Texan is palpable.  For a Texas company, one that organically grew from Texas roots instead of moving in from California or New York, abandoning fellow Texans in need is unthinkable.  That is a level of mutual commitment that outsiders underestimate at their peril – and ought to study for their own benefit.   

When a private organization decides to suspend ordinary rules, and when members are united in a clear vision of the goal, they can accomplish near miracles.  Government bureaucracies are restrained by law in many ways and can't be flexible in the same way.

H.E.B. deserves, and will receive, a reward from its customers who are unlikely to forget the importance of bricks and mortar.  And its fame ought to spread well beyond Texas, and maybe help a few more people understand a political culture based on opportunity, self-reliance, and openness, not victimhood, dependence, and government control.