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Leading Spirit Airlines during 9/11: Team Motivation

Ben Baldanza
Former CEO at Spirit Airlines

Learning outcomes

  • How to keep employees engaged through a crisis

Executive Bio

Ben Baldanza

Former CEO at Spirit Airlines

Ben has over 35 years of experience in the airline industry. From 2005 - 16 he was CEO of Spirit Airlines and is known for defining the ultra low cost carrier model after transforming the business to become the 7th largest airline in the US. Ben was previously SVP at both American Airlines and Continental Airlines and also led the restructuring of Avianca Holdings. He now consults with the largest US airlines and is an Adjunct Professor of Economics at George Mason University.Read more

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Interview Transcript

As an airline CEO during the 2008 crisis and 9/11, how did you motivate your team?

You had to be optimistic about what the future could be and how the company can survive, what the company needs to do, to survive and how there’s a light at the end of that tunnel. That’s what good leaders do. Just yesterday, I saw a piece of an Ohio state commencement, that Tim Cook, the CEO of Apple gave. He was very positive. He wasn’t unrealistic about the world, but he talked about all the ways these graduates could change the world, for the better. That’s what you have to do, as a leader. You have to keep people engaged, that they work for a company that matters, a company that can recover from this and a company that can be strong, coming out of this. And they can find opportunities in crises.

The reality is, crises do create opportunities for some companies. They find they can, maybe, make a change that was hard for them to make before and now they can make it. Or they didn’t, necessarily, think as broadly about a certain customer initiative and now they can think about it that way. Maybe there’s some M&A that benefits them. I think what you do is, you talk to your employees, you talk to your crews, You talk to them regularly, about what the company is doing, how the company is handling this, how our hunker down, right now, is going to be an investment that’s going to pay in the future. Keep people engaged. That’s the way you have to do it, as a leader.

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