“Once I stopped worrying about my career, my career took off.” So says Doug Parker, the CEO of American Airlines.
In a wide ranging interview with the New York Times, American Airlines CEO Doug Parker offered extended thoughts on the 737 MAX and a detailed history of his career. He also offered some career advice.
Parker’s father was in the grocery business. He started as a meat cutter and moved up the ranks to become a senior vice president. It was in a grocery warehouse that Parker’s career begin. He shared of one anecdote:
I worked in a Teamsters warehouse in Detroit for Kroger. It was a learning experience. At one point, the break horn blows and I kept working. This guy pulls up next to me and goes, “What are you doing?” I said my work wasn’t done and I needed to keep going. He goes: “We don’t work through breaks. Drop that pallet and get into the break room now.”
Most of what they cared about was each other. They didn’t view their job as something that was fulfilling. They associated themselves more with the union that they were in than the company they worked for.
He contrasts this with himself:
My dad grew up on a farm, so we had a work ethic in the family.
I don’t think he meant to dismiss his union colleagues as lazy. But I wonder if he asked himself why they were so quick to do only the minimum required of them? Is “work ethic” synonymous with working harder and/or longer? Or must workers, union or not, be inspired by leaders to bring out the best in them?
Over his tenure at American Airlines, Parker has faced many labor issues. Most notably, American Airlines has battled hard against its mechanics, an issue Live and Let’s Fly has covered extensively.
Could it be that his trouble with labor stems from this childhood experience in a Kroger factory in Detroit?
Once I stopped worrying about my career, my career took off.
Yet Parker clearly distinguishes “worry” from the kind of worry-free attitude he used to describe his former union colleagues (“They didn’t view their job as something that was fulfilling.”)
In short, Parker’s view seems to be hard work leads to promotions. Be the best you can be and everything else will take care of itself. And while I agree that such a mindset works on an individual basis, I’m not sure that is a rallying cry for the troops, especially since not everyone can be a leader in a pyramid-like organization.
I love reading biographies of business executives and politicians. Not everyone was born with a silver spoon in their mouth and the stories of how “regular” men and women rose through the ranks makes for interesting case studies. While being at the right place at the right time always is a key element, the value of hard work cannot be dismissed. But hard work must be inspired, not assumed. Perhaps that is the element Parker is still missing.
I’d encourage you to read the entire story, which is written in Q & A format. I’ll address Parker’s thoughts on the 737 MAX and how he saved America West from liquidation in future posts.
image: American Airlines