David Gelles of the New York Times recently sat down Delta CEO Ed Bastian. The Q&A offers a fascinating look into Bastian’s history from childhood to present.
We learn about Bastian’s childhood, his first summer jobs, his time as an accountant, and how he came to Delta, left, and returned again.
The whole interview is worth a read, but let me pull out a few snippets I thought particularly noteworthy.
He once worked or Frito-Lay and spent 90% of his time on the road. It ruined his marriage but gave him a love for travel.
What were you looking for when you went on to work for Frito-Lay?
As an accountant, you’re not making the decision — you’re not bringing business ideas and being accountable for the results. I wanted to own the result. I worked at Frito-Lay International, which was a conglomeration of all these snack companies around the world. Each had its own snacks, its own flavors and brands, and Frito was on an acquisition binge. We would acquire brands in the U.K. or in the Netherlands or in China or in Russia. We would get on the Frito-Lay plane on a Monday and visit three, four, five countries around the world, get back Friday evening in Dallas for the weekend, and the next Monday we’d hit another set of countries. I was on the road 90 percent of the time.
Did you have a family then?
I did. It was hard. That marriage wound up breaking up shortly after that period. It was difficult. But from a business standpoint, it was incredible.
It’s a sober reminder that there is a work-life balance it is essential to find.
Bastian Moves to Delta
Here’s how he wound up at Delta:
How did you wind up at Delta?
A friend called me and said Delta had an opening as a corporate controller. I said, “I feel like I live on an airplane, so why not?” Then I got inside, and realized it’s a hell of a lot more complicated than you can appreciate.
On employee bonuses:
But what did you actually do for [employees]?
In the middle of the bankruptcy process, we didn’t know where the bottom was. We had asked our workers to take pay cut after pay cut, and there was nothing left for us to take. But we said, “If this thing turns around, we want you to be paid first. So we said 15 percent of the profits will go to you. Not the management team, it goes to you, our employees.”
A few years after that, we had a $100 million profit-sharing payout to employees. Now, for five years running, we’ve paid over $1 billion a year to our employees in profit-sharing. We get a lot of questions from investors who think we’re way too generous, that we don’t need to give it to our employees, and we’ve refused to budge. It’s sacrosanct. I talk almost in spiritual terms about it.
Again, I recommend you read over the entire interview. I wish Gelles had challenged Bastian on Delta’s subsidy hypocrisy, but it is still a great interview.