Friday, September 07, 2007

How do you turn around an airline?

US Airways just announced that they are hiring an airline veteran as COO. Read the full story here. His name is Robert Isom; his last airline job was at Northwest Airlines when it was in bankruptcy. Most recently he worked at GMAC Financing, where he was "chief restructuring officer."

I don't know Robert Isom, or his skills. But if I were trying to fix a failing airline with a dismal customer service history, I wouldn't hire someone from my industry that had gone bankrupt. I'd try to steal someone from Southwest.

Or, I'd bring in someone from Apple, or Starbucks, or another company in a different industry that really gets customer experience. I'd hire someone from IDEO to rethink the entire airline travel experience.

There are probably plenty of people at US Airways who could tell the company how to improve its on-time record or solve its baggage-handling problems. Those are fixable technical problems that money can solve. They could do roundtables with front-line staff members, and/or set up a place on their intranet to submit ideas with a $50 reward—both will yield great ideas.

But a customer experience mindset? That's much trickier.

Tip of the day: Look outside your industry for staff and ideas if you need a dramatic change in the way you do business. If you must hire from within your industry, get someone from the company who is trouncing everyone else.

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  1. Chris Bailey1:57 PM

    Stephanie, I kinda see this like the pro ball teams that bring in the never-that-good head coach who flunked out in past gigs (Norv Turner or Dennis Erickson anyone?). They do it because it's comfy and the risks *appear* minimal. Yet the only thing you get is the same mediocrity as before.

    I imagine that US Airways went for the easy bet that's Isom because it's comfy. This is an airline that has never really aspired to much more than a paper imitation of it's competitors who merely copy the efforts of other non-Southwest carriers. It's starting to get hard telling all the bankrupt airlines apart these days.

  2. Stephanie,

    Great post! The titanic was a large ship with a small rudder that could not turn before disaster struck. I think you are right that it takes more than the proverbial "straightening of the deck chairs". They'll need a very large customer experience mindset (top to bottom) to turn around their clunker.

    I guess we'll see.