Last week, I attended a talk put on by Western Washington University Business Forum. The guest speaker was a superstar CEO, William S. Ayer, the leader in charge of Alaska Airlines and Horizon Air. And, he was a superstar speaker. His message was spot-on and his delivery was engaging. I took detailed notes so I could share them with you.
After 9/11, there was a lot of changes that Alaska needed to make in order to be a profitable and Mr. Ayer had to be the one to lead the charge. He told the audience that initially, he didn’t get much feedback that the changes he was making was right. The advice he gave for managing change was practical, “Hang in there! It’s easy to defend the status quo. We are always in a state of change and the leaders who are going to thrive are the leaders that can change.” He said that Alaska Airlines was “still in transformation. Change is a core skill at a company like Alaska.” They have something to be proud about with their 10,000 employee company – six straight years of profitability. (Can I get a woot woot!?)
To create transformational change within your organization, he shared the following ‘rules’:
1. Get the right people on the bus. Make sure that your team is all the best and remember that the tone at the top (the leaders, especially the CEO) is important.
2. Create a sense of urgency. At Alaska, they had $200million of losses in 2 years. This created a natural sense of urgency. Figure out who your opinion leaders are and make sure they are on board with you.
3. Focus on one or two big ideas. Identify those two big ideas and then design metrics around them so you can measure them and have accountability for success.
4. What you measure gets done!
5. Be clear about goals. Everybody wants to win. Give them a roadmap to do so.
6. Be totally and completely customer focused. The customer decides on how successful a business is. Treat them right.
8. Develop win-win partnerships.
He ended with his common sense philosophy on business management:
Don’t buy things you can’t afford.
Don’t borrow money you can’t pay back.
Don’t do deals you can’t understand.
If it doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t.