An ex-CEO's inspiring thoughts

Gordon bethune In case you didn't see it, check out the excellent interview with Gordon Bethune, ex-CEO of Continental Airlines, in last Sunday's New York Times. I'm not sure why such an apparently high-performing leader would be attracted to the perennially low-performing airline business, but Bethune successfully lead Continental from 1994 to 2004. 

For me, Bethune embodies what Jim Collins, author of Good to Great, called "level five leaders" -- CEOs who are self-effacing, quiet but aggressive, always ready to "share the stage" with their employees. These are traits that will be at a premium as companies (particularly financial services firms) re-build trust with their customers, employees, and society at large, post-recession.

Here are a few of my favorite quotations from the interview:

"...being good at your job is predicated pretty much on how the people working for you feel."

"...pick good guys, give them the training they need and let them use their own judgment."

"You know [good judgment] when you see it. Somebody who knows what they're doing, who has a good track record, they come across as very articulate, bright and looking for a challenge -- that's absolutely my kind of hire."

"I did a weekly voice mail [to the whole company] every week for 10 years, a three-to five-minute message."

"[Employees] had direct access to me, and direct access to the information."

"And we never lied. You don't lie to your own doctor. You don't lie to your own attorney, and you don't lie to your employees."

"You need to take the time to show the people around you who work for you that you're interested in them. So I would schedule my time like that."


re: An ex-CEO's inspiring thoughts

Great post George. I heard a story from a friend about Gordon where apparently he was on a flight where a pissed off OnePass elite member was
ranting about not getting an upgrade. When an attendant tried to pacify him he said - who the f- are you in the chain of command?

Gordon walked up to the passenger and said, "I am CEO. I presume that is high enough in the chain of
command. Here's your refund - now get the f- off my plane."

I'm not sure if its true or not but a great story nonetheless.

re: An ex-CEO's inspiring thoughts

Gordon was a great leader. My wife worked for Continental for five years and left just as he was coming on board. We still have friends working at Continental who to this day adore him. I met Gordon when I was on Continental's inaugural 777 flight from Newark to Tokyo, when I was at IDC flying to Tokyo on business. He was VERY customer focused too, chatting with everyone who boarded the flight that day.

George, if you haven't read Gordon's book- "From Worst to First," pick up a copy! My wife lived through the "meatball" days!

re: An ex-CEO's inspiring thoughts

George, thanks for sharing this. Gordon Bethune should inspire executives to live an employee oriented culture much like I promote in my writing. I manage by the principles he outlines, but then my business is too irrelevant to set an example that would be seen.

For a stunning account how some financial services CEOs behaved before the crash and still do, I can recommend 'Too Big To Fail' by Andrew Ross Sorkin.

re: An ex-CEO's inspiring thoughts

I wanted to highlight a report recently published by gartner It is written through outsourcing (gartner outsourced this work to a BPO - WNS in gurgaon) & has highlighted the WNS employee as one of its own.
Do u think, this kind of activity is fair. This outsourced report in that case should have been priced at 20 cents rather than $2495