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Turnarounds require the soft skills of a CEO

November 30, 2018

It’s easy to be CEO when most of the corporate machinery is running smoothly. Try being CEO of United Airlines.

You’ve read the headlines: Just about every stakeholder in that company has been deeply offended over the past couple of decades. Employees, investors, creditors and customers have all taken their hits.

Also imagine all the moving parts of this global operation, plus the regulatory demands, the wild fluctuations in fuel prices, the unions and even the residual bitterness after United’s 2010 merger with Houston-based Continental Airlines.

Three years ago, Oscar Munoz walked into this situation, and, well, to be frank, he is still turning it around. There’s been quite a bit of progress, though, save for a couple national PR disasters - such as the time United injured a physician by having security forcibly remove him from his seat.

It was not Munoz’s proudest moment, but it is not one he wants buried.

“I never want to forget it,” he tells Texas Inc. in today’s edition. “I never want our people to forget it. Because that’s what can happen to us if we don’t pay attention to things that are important.”

Munoz knows that if your priority isn’t people, you are pursuing a flawed strategy.

“You always start with the people, especially in this business,” Munoz said. “We are so people-to-people centric. You interact with us when you check in, when you board the aircraft, when you deplane. So getting our people aligned on the mission, getting our people motivated and energized to provide the kind of service that we expect, is always a start. How you treat people, how you respect them, how you listen to them has been such a critical part of our turnaround. And none of that requires a lot of capital outlay or financial outlay, but it does require a lot of human outlay.”

While Munoz’s approach to smoothing out United Airlines may sound simple in its conception, it’s not in its execution. Read his interview here in Texas Inc.

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