American Airlines CEO Says He Doesn’t Insist On Fixing Problems When He Sees Them

A writer over at The Points Guy interviews American Airlines CEO Doug Parker. It’s a pretty soft interview but one revealing exchange took place,

TPG: If you notice something amiss in a process American can control, do you bring it up?

DP: I do, but I can’t think of a time when the answer wasn’t, “Oh, yes, we’re working on it.” … Any CEO will tell you that you may see things and question them, but you have to be very careful doing anything about it.

TPG: Why?

DP: You don’t want to change the priority of something that wasn’t a priority. You want to be careful not to have people drop what they are doing so they can take care of something you noticed.

Some might say the role of the CEO is to set priorities and ensure that the rest of the organization is aligned with the company’s mission.

However if someone tells Doug Parker they’re already aware of and addressing a problem that’s good enough for him. That makes sense if employees already have the right priorities. His answer assumes that they do – even though the airline lacks a clear mission statement to prioritize their actions. Oddly Parker has said he believes front line employees don’t understand the airline’s strategy so go figure.

Nevertheless when Parker sees something wrong he doesn’t insist that fixing the problem should be a priority – and doesn’t give them a framework within which to figure out for themselves what the right priorities are. That – along with the fact that the airline was flying its new standard coach product for about 9 months before the CEO even tried it, explains a lot about the airline. Parker impersonates a mean Boy George and Billy Ray Cyrus, though.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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Comments

  1. I think Parker does a horrible job overall, but his statement here is Principles of CEO/Chairman 101. It would be chaos if he went around asking people to change things like this. There’s plenty with which to criticize him, this isn’t one of those items.

  2. C’mon Gary – what he says is 100% accurate. And you’re taking things out of context for clickbait.

    He literally says “I do” in the first two words of his answer. Or, was that part skipped because it doesn’t fit your narrative?

    Anyone who’s ever worked in a large corp knows full well that anything the CEO hints at or casually asks about will immediately become priority #1 for every person even remotely related to item. Even if the item wasn’t a priority at all, or just a curiosity. Because the mere asking of question will do that. His answer is about as honest and correct as you can get.

    Wouldn’t the correct non-clickbait headline have been: “American CEO says he fixes problems when he sees them, but also supports his team prioritizing issues”

  3. @LetsGoToo – He’s missing half the picture. What he’s saying is right — if he can be confident that employees have the right priorities. However his role is to set those priorities, and that’s precisely what he fails to do.

    His airline lacks a mission statement. The closest they get is ‘not lose money again’ and ‘care for people on life’s journey.’ And he acknowledges himself that employees don’t get the strategy he has in mind.

  4. @RM – No, “American CEO says he fixes problems when he sees them, but also supports his team prioritizing issues” would be the opposite of what he said. He says he asks about things he notices, and shuts up as soon as an employee says they’re working on it.

    My point is that he’d be taking the correct approach if he set the vision for the company and gave employees the tools to prioritize correctly in line with company strategy. However that’s where he fails.

  5. Gary, What on earth are you reading? You’re making up stuff in your head here.

    This is what he said – quoted:

    “I do, but I can’t think of a time when the answer wasn’t, “Oh, yes, we’re working on it.” … Any CEO will tell you that you may see things and question them, but you have to be very careful doing anything about it.”

    He said nothing about “shutting up”. In fact, his very next line says he has to be careful about it – it being making more changes. It doesn’t say he doesn’t do it. Nor does it say the conversation doesn’t continue. Nor does it say that he stops talking. In fact, his follow-up answer explains that in more depth.

    I’m hardly an AA fanboy here (I frankly don’t care either way), but c’mon, you’re spinning this in the weirdest possible way that’s not at all accurate to what was stated. The quote is astoundingly black and white, and you’re trying to make it flashing orange.

  6. @RM – he says he (1) notices things that are wrong, (2) asks about them, and (3) accepts “we’re working on it” and (4) that’s the end of the discussion.

    That’s great if everyone’s aligned on priorities, and resources are aligned as well. What you seem to be missing is that his narrative makes sense in a world he’s failed to create at American Airlines – not that *in a well-run company* where resources and priorities are aligned with strategy the CEO would necessarily act differently.

    That’s the world that does not exist today at American Airlines.

  7. Jeez – sounds like DP is afraid of his people and being in “contempt of crew”. @Gary, I disagree with the other readers commenting here: if the CEO doesn’t feel like she or he can speak up for fear of changing the priorities… then that’s poor leadership. He needs to speak up and have a voice. His employee morale is astonishingly low with some of the rudest, unfriendliest employees not just in this industry but in any industry. The little things do actually matter and it’s up to DP to make noise when he observe things that aren’t in line with the brand, vision, quality that he expects.

  8. LoL….another Boeing like CEO. What a dope head Duffus!!

    As soon as we have a stock market crash, AA will be the first to go bankrupt. Then Park will get his pink slip, but with a massive bonus, like Boeing while AA goes down the toilet….Go Figure!

  9. I have worked at companies where even the slightest comment made by one of the big bosses sent all kinds of hell breaking lose. So, yeah, I’m on Doug’s side on this issue. Give him credit for knowing how much authority his words carry.

  10. Like TPG people would be allowed to publish an interview that wasn’t a puff piece, even if they knew how. Anyone who thinks differently is out to lunch.

  11. “I think Parker does a horrible job overall, but his statement here is Principles of CEO/Chairman 101”

    Parker’s statement is also 180 degrees apart from Steve Jobs’ philosophy. Steve Jobs was not perfect, but he motivated employees to strive for perfection, and as a result Apple is one of the best regarded brands in the world.

  12. @Brad – Agreed 100%. And Apple’s products reflected Steve’s pursuit of perfection.

    Not many leaders like Jobs. And it shows.

  13. I’m sorry but American would not be so low on the rating if they had good leadership. They are the worst for long distance flights.
    I am a big fan of American Airlines however, it is sad to see nothing ever gets fixed.
    Fire those long distance flight attendants that hate their jobs!

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