Movie Monday – May 2 – United CEO Jeff Smisek’s view from the top

Last night around 10pm the internet – more specifically twitter – exploded with activity around a planned 10:30 speech by President Obama on an unknown topic. We now know that topic was the announcement of the death of Osama bin Laden following a US special forces mission in Abbottabad, Pakistan. When the first news broke, I was in the middle of watching this Stanford Business School lecture by United Airlines CEO Jeff Smisek, which I was preparing for today’s Movie Monday.
Smisek, who is the newly minted CEO of the merged United and Continental, discusses a range of topics during the lecture. Through the lecture, he emphasises how vulnerable the industry is from external shocks, like that we saw on 9/11. Though while those shocks, whether from volcanoes, fuel or attempted underwear bombers, are just the nature of the industry, it is not the thing that defines your business.
What Smisek suggests without explicitly spelling it out is long-term sustainable organizational stability is found from within by transparently understanding the state of your business and creating a work environment where people develop trust. 
There’s been a lot of discussion about the Boeing/IAM/National Labor Relations Board controversy about the Charleston 787 line, and Smisek unwittingly adds his own take on a higher contextual level. Smisek ultimately says that the stability between management and its workforce isn’t about union representation, but the overall relationship between those who participate in building the enterprise:
“And even in a unionised workforce, you can build that relationship with a unionised workforce where the work thinks of themselves as employees of the enterprise first and union members second. If you have it flipped where it’s union first and enterprise second, that’s a path to ruin.”

This week’s Movie Monday runs just shy of 23 minutes. Enjoy!

4 Responses to Movie Monday – May 2 – United CEO Jeff Smisek’s view from the top

  1. Hank May 2, 2011 at 8:16 pm #

    “If you have it flipped where it’s union first and enterprise second, that’s a path to ruin.”

    When your union strikes during difficult times with your new star program, you are on that path to ruin IMHO.

  2. Aero Ninja May 3, 2011 at 1:58 am #

    Funny how so many forget, or don’t want to mention, that the airlines, especially the american ones, were already seriously suffering before September 11, 2001.

    In fact TWA had already bitten the dust in April of 2001.

    So the airlines were already quite vulnerable before this event.

    Sorry. A little bug I have about the myth that the airlines in the US were all doing quite well before the attack.

  3. Fritz May 3, 2011 at 2:08 am #

    What does it say when the union hall has a sculpture of strikers around a barrel of burning trash shaking their fist at your plant? It’s a puzzler!

    Ah, the joys of an Everett Plant tour….

  4. Aero Observer May 3, 2011 at 10:35 am #

    Jon, Thanks for sharing the insights of an impressive leader. Smisek seems to know the levers of getting the most out of a company in a challenging industry.

    His approach to treating employees and customers with respect and being open and honest with both strikes me as a marked contrast to one of their OEM suppliers. Creating a positive working environment with their union and non-union employees.

    It is no surprise that Carolyn Corvi, who has the same approach, is a board member of United.