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   Vol. 19 No. 31
Wednesday April 15, 2020
American Homespun Air Cargo
Rick Elieson Homespun American

     Rick Elieson moves easily from his vocation as the President of American Airlines Cargo to his avocation as a brilliant naturalist photographer.
     These days we imagine Rick working from the sanctuary of home in the embrace of family and photos, continuing to think big thoughts as he pilots the cargo fortunes of the biggest airline in the world.
     Here he shares an inside look at his professional and personal life today, and some idea what we all might expect from air cargo moving ahead in 2020.

FT:   What has surprised you?

RE:   We need to lend all the support we can to developing treatments for COVID-19, and our air cargo industry plays a part in making that happen. We should all find great meaning in our role. But I believe we also need an increased measure of empathy, compassion, and respect for diversity so that this disease doesn't divide and conquer us.
     History will judge, and perhaps this can only be understood on a longer horizon, but I worry that there is an arc of xenophobia underlying many of the developments we've seen around the world for many years, which is now being exacerbated by fears of contracting an infectious disease. In some respects, people underestimate the risk of catching it from their neighbor, and seem to overestimate the risk of catching it from a neighbor who looks different than themselves. This disease is taking a terrible toll, but it is absolutely temporary. Mankind and the brotherhood of man is enduring.

FT:   What does the shipper value most?

RE:   Demand for passenger travel has dissipated so quickly that our published schedule reductions haven't been able to keep up. This has meant a lot of additional cancellations that have created uncertainty for customers. Directly addressing that uncertainty with better information around tracking or being able to stand behind operational guarantees mitigates some of that.
      Our recent Fair Booking Policy also helps to ensure efficient use of limited available capacity. But this is a significant level of disruption for the entire industry that goes beyond operational disruption. I find it easy to slip into language like "unprecedented" or "unrivaled" but the truth is that industries are disrupted all the time. We can look around us right now and see potential paradigm shifts for in-person education, hotels/Airbnb, automotive, movie production or even big tobacco.
      I am convinced that the key to resilience lies in adaptation and a focus on quality rather than efficiency or cost savings. In American's case, this has only fueled our enthusiasm for our IT modernization project and the flexibility that it will create for our customer and our business.

FT:   How do you spend your days? Are you home? If so will this be the new way to do business?

RE:   Many of our team members are working remotely now, but many more are putting on their uniforms and coming to work each day. We are members of an industry that is critical to putting food on people's tables. And we play a role in the delivery of life-saving pharmaceuticals that has never been more front-and-center than it is in the fight against COVID-19 by delivering treatments, test kits, supporting clinical trials, as well as PPE. We have an awesome responsibility.      Much of what we do is behind the scenes, but it isn't taken for granted. To the contrary, awareness of our role in connecting the world and caring for people on life's journey has probably never been greater.

FT:   Do you cook? Have a favorite recipe?

The Elieson FamilyRE:   While we are all getting reacquainted with our kitchens (and I can't find butternut squash in my local grocery anymore!), I am deeply concerned about the ability for small businesses to cope with the effects of social distancing on their business. That goes double for the family owned restaurants in my neighborhood. So, I am trying to support them as much as I can. I had a second, long conversation last night with the owners of my favorite Thai restaurant. This time I got up the courage to urge them to lower prices, improve their website, offer delivery service, promote their cleaning regimen, simplify their menu, offer daily specials of grab-and-go items or free promotional dishes for orders above the average ticket price, ask people to pay in cash, and put up a much bigger open sign! These aren't new tactics, or even new opportunities for them, but the urgency to change how they think, and their willingness to try new approaches has suddenly and drastically changed. There is probably a lesson there for all of us.

FT:   Are you reading a book?

RE:   I am always reading a book. Instilling in my children a love for reading is perhaps the one thing I know I've gotten right as a parent! At a time when we are all over-saturated by media headlines, many of which are designed to tantalize rather than inform, I think escaping into a book - any book - is great therapy right now. I probably get through about 40 books a year and in March I read three that I liked; Creativity Inc., The Toyota Way, and Give and Take. I found nuggets and similarities in each that are shaping the way I think about my responsibilities and how I can have a more positive impact on my business.

FT:   What and who is your inspiration?

RE:   Recently I have found inspiration in the works of W. Edwards Deming. He was an engineer and statistician who is often credited with the rise of the Japanese auto industry after WWII. His contributions are usually ascribed to quality in manufacturing and helping companies to leverage data in their decision making. That is surely true, but I have been inspired by the application of his principles to creating a more safety-conscious culture. Not just safe policies or practices, but how to instill it within the very culture. This is something I'm quite interested in and have enjoyed thinking about.

FT:   What are you telling friends and love ones and possibly business partners about coping in these times?

RE:   I have three things written on a post-it and stuck to my computer monitor as reminders of how to succeed in a period with so much uncertainty.
     1.  Stay positive.  One of my favorite quotes is from Jeff Holland who said, “No circumstance is so bad that complaining about it won’t make it worse.” I’m not perfect at this, but I am trying. It is helpful to remember that my circumstances don’t need to define my attitude, and there are plenty of great things occurring all around us. My happiness is not the product of success, but rather that a good attitude drives motivation, hard work and ultimately, success will follow. Don’t get the sequence backwards and think that you can only be happy after things turn out well. It is also helpful to remind myself that this crisis is a momentary one. The first ingredient is a good attitude followed by working as a team.
     2.  Unify as a team.  In our annual employee survey, teamwork and collaboration consistently rank at the top of attributes that define our organization. Especially in the world of social distancing, we need to remain connected and unified in purpose. Recognition helps, as does significantly ramping up communication so that as priorities shift, we shift together as a team.
     3.  Adapt.  I was a Boy Scout, so of course I am a believer in being prepared. And American is as well-prepared as one could reasonably expect. But no one is very good at predicting the future and preparation doesn’t solve problems, it just extends the time available to you. We often simplify Charles Darwin’s work on natural selection as “survival of the fittest” but the lesson we should take away is “survival of the most adaptive.” We must not just embrace, but drive change in our organizations in response to changing customer expectations. I could talk about all day about how to do this!

FT:   What plans that were previously made have worked well as the pandemic has deepened?

RE:   Our Cargo Strategy team maintains a “disruptors and adjacencies” playbook that was helpful in getting cargo-only flights operating quickly. Obviously, it doesn’t predict every scenario, but it pre-digests some of the more complex issues of which we could conceive and helped us to identify commonalities and successful approaches so that we aren’t flat-footed even in unforeseen circumstances.
      The other process we’re relying on is following the example of our IT teams who are really good about reprioritizing and reallocating resources. They disband and reform teams all the time based on the changing needs of the organization they support. We’ve begun doing the same; throwing out old reporting lines and team structures and forming new ones centered around our most pressing objectives. Teams are small, largely autonomous, in constant contact (virtually of course!), and focused on fast, incremental results. As our needs change - and what isn’t changing right now – we spool up a new team or disband an old one.
     We even created a team to help match available resources with unmet opportunities. Our recent Fair Booking Policy was the product of one of those teams – a need emerged to make sure that at a time when we have so little capacity, our customers can take advantage of every inch. It was an initiative that didn’t exist prior to the pandemic, a cross-functional team was quickly formed to tackle the issue, and now that the work is complete, the team will disband to go work on a variety of other projects.
     I am optimistic about the work ahead of us and our ability to create positive, lasting change.

If You Missed Any Of The Previous 3 Issues Of FlyingTypers
Access complete issue by clicking on issue icon or
Access specific articles by clicking on article title
Vol. 19 No. 28
Who Are Those Masked People
Virus Crisis—Forwarders Get No Respect
Indian Agents in CASS Throwdown
Chuckles for April 6, 2020
QR Cargo For AMS Adds Up

Vol. 19 No. 29
No Country is Independent
Project Airbridge Not AirBridgeCargo
India Stops and Goes Air Cargo
Chuckles for April 10, 2020

Vol. 19 No. 30
When Italian Sunday was Easter and Monday was Fun

Publisher-Geoffrey Arend • Managing Editor-Flossie Arend •
Film Editor-Ralph Arend • Special Assignments-Sabiha Arend, Emily Arend • Advertising Sales-Judy Miller

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