Scott Kirby was much more himself in his welcome video to employees versus his welcome video to the public. Even as a consumer, I found his internal speech much more compelling.
Scott Kirby Does Not Mince Words
In a 4.5 minute video to United employees shared internally this morning and viewed by Live and Let’s Fly, CEO Scott Kirby laid out his vision for the months ahead.
Kirby is blunt, sober-minded, and yet somehow manages to weave optimism into his address.
He heaps great praise upon outgoing CEO Oscar Munoz, calling him “a role model, a mentor, and a friend” and credits him with transforming the culture at United during this five-year tenure.
Kirby frames his primary mission as saving the company, with saving jobs a byproduct of that primary effort:
“I want you to know that the only priority I have right now is leading United through to the other side of this crisis and preserving as many jobs as possible…”
He calls upon employees to make collective sacrifice and the floats the idea of reduced hours and forgoing cost of living adjustments in order to avoid more painful furloughs. Kirby notes these would not be “small sacrifices” but are key to United bouncing back quickly after travel demand bounces back.
Finally, he captures eloquently the notion that there is pent up demand for travel and that telephones and videos never replace human-to-human interaction.
Oh yes, and a fun fact: the first time Kirby ever flew was his flight to the U.S. Air Force Academy when he was 17 years old…yet he wanted to be a pilot his entire life.
If you care to read the full video address, I’ve transcribed it below.
The Full Kirby Welcome Video Address To Employees
I woke up this morning energized to start my first day in my dream job. Like many of you, I’ve spent my career in and around aviation.
Also like you, I’ve experienced many of the challenges this industry has faced but never imagined we’d be dealing with the current situation.
Some of you may already know that my career began at the U.S. Air Force Academy when I was 17 years old. From the time I was young, I’d always wanted to be a pilot, although the first flight I ever took was when I headed off to the Air Force Academy.
While I didn’t go to pilot training after the academy, I had one of the most exciting, rewarding, and best learning experiences anyone could have, as I was assigned to work at the Pentagon when I was 21 years old.
After I left the military, I moved straight into commercial aviation, spending nearly three decades in the business until I landed my dream opportunity here at United.
Clearly, I’ve had jet fuel in my veins for as long as I can remember. Today, I inherit this job from an incredible leader. Since we announced this transition six months ago, I’ve had the pleasure of thanking Oscar for being a role model, a mentor, and a friend. The culture at United was transformed during his tenure at the top. And when we overcome this crisis–and we absolutely will overcome it–we’ll know it would have not have been possible without the foundation that was built under Oscar’s visionary leadership years before anyone had ever heard of COVID-19.
Whether you’ve been a part of the United team for a few months, a few years, or a few decades, I don’t have to tell you that this is the worst finical crisis that our industry and our company has ever seen. We’ve already had to make some tough decision and even tougher decisions may lie ahead.
I want you to know that the only priority I have right now is leading United through to the other side of this crisis and preserving as many jobs as possible once this virus is defeated, and it will be defeated.
As we move forward, there’s one thing you can absolutely count on. You can count on me to give it to your straight. I’m committed to telling you the truth, even when it’s hard, even when I know it’s not what you want to hear.
That’s especially important in times like these, and I promise that’s what you’ll get from me every single time. We can and will get through this together, but it’s going to require us to be open, honest, and transparent with each other.
As I take on the responsibility of being your CEO, I’m determined to protect, as best I can, the jobs of as many men and women at United as possible. I’m also determined to make sure that once this virus is defeated and demand begins to recover, that United can bounce back more quickly than anyone, and by doing so, we can fly past our industry peers.
So even as our competitors prepare to furlough thousands of employees, we’ll be talking to our union partners in the weeks and months ahead about creative ideas that would involve reduced hours and COLAs instead of furloughs.
Those are not small sacrifices since they would be widely shared by everyone here at United, but it would save jobs. And most importantly, it would allow us to bounce back quickly, which is the best way to ensure everyone’s job in the long run.
Reaching these kinds of agreements in in these extraordinary circumstances won’t be easy, especially because we don’t have much time. But if we can figure this out together, it will be the biggest and most significant competitive advantage we can possibly create for United Airlines.
And while I’ve been preparing you for the worst, I want you to know that we’re also working hard to be prepared for the best because we all know this; people are eager to get back out into the world. No matter how sharp the picture quality or how strong the Wi-Fi signal, there’s just no substitute for being there in person. That’s what we all love, and that’s what we do better than anyone else. We connect people to the moments that matter most.
One of my heroes has always been Winston Churchill. One of his famous quotes during the darkest days of World War II was, “When you’re going through hell, keeping going.” And while we’re going through hell right now, the character of the men and women of United Airlines has been revealed for all to see over the last couple of months. And I could not be prouder or more honored to be in the trenches with you.
I’m humbled by the opportunity to lead this company even though tough times lie ahead, and I’m absolutely certain that as long as we remain United Together, we’ll ge through this and bounce back stronger than ever.
Thank you, be well, and I look forward to seeing you soon.
Earlier today I said Kirby’s note to the public did not exactly sound like Kirby. Kirby’s not usually someone who inspires optimism. He is someone who inspires trust because he tells it like it is, even if the news is bad. That’s why his earlier note was surprising. But the note above is very Kirbyesque…and like him or hate him, I do think Kirby is best situated to lead United through this present storm.