Monday, September 8, 2008

Move the People - 1/4/08

[Nothing has happened to change my opinion here. Given United's stated intention to downgrade their service, charge more for basic services, and so forth, I doubt there is a viable business model here any longer. One wonders how much longer they can continue without taxpayer help.]

Yesterday I called United Airlines "perhaps the worst-run major company in the history of the U.S." I'm probably inclined that way because I live close to its headquarters (one of the few left in Chicago) and hear a lot of news about it. Is it the worst? Hard to say. But it has to be a contender.

This is a company that was unquestionably #1 in the world just a few short years ago, and now cannot get through some snow and ice in December (surprise!), thunderstorms in the summer (double surprise!), pay workers what was promised, can't staff sufficiently, etc.

Mission statements are forever in vogue. For those who don't know, mission statements are designed to give focus to an organization's activities, to allow everyone, customers, suppliers, and employees, to understand the objectives toward which the organization will work. They are formulated by top executives, usually on weekend resort retreats, and are to be taken very seriously even after the tans fade.

United Airlines, like all right-thinking companies, has a mission statement: To be recognized worldwide as the airline of choice. This is supposed to tell us that, 1) United is a global enterprise, and 2) that they want to be first in market share. That's it.

Any company that has as its purpose the act of moving people from one place to another, whether airline, bus company, or train, needs a common mission statement: Get the people where they're going. I don't care how you want to be recognized, I don't care what your market share is, I want to go up in the airplane, and come down in the airplane safely and reasonably close to the time you promised. Every action, every stock deal, every negotiation with a union must be subsumed to the idea that you have to move the people.

United has forgotten this. Their bankruptcy was an exercise in indifference to anyone other than a few hundred corporate bigwigs, and their actions since have reinforced that idea. Move the people, United, and maybe you can remain viable. Don't, and you'll be the next on the aviation scrapheap.

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