Last week, a retiring American Airlines (AAL) executive praised CEO Doug Parker, calling him "a servant leader" and noting, "Doug taught me through his actions that you can be the leader you are in your heart."
Usually, it is meaningless when a retiring executive praises the CEO. This time was different because Terri Pope, who will step down June 2 as American's vice president of hub operations in Charlotte, is a popular and inspiring leader with a rare skill -- she knows how to treat people.
Like a lot of aging baby boomers, I have worked for hundreds of bosses. Terri Pope was the best one. A large proportion of the others were incompetent.
She is not the only Charlotte leader who speaks highly of Parker. Another is Bob Frear, chairman of the Charlotte chapter of the Allied Pilots Association.
After American awarded $830 million in pay raises to pilots and flight attendants in April, Frear acknowledged in a letter to pilots that he had been Parker's "most outspoken critic" among pilot leaders. Yet he commended Parker for the bold step and said, "He needs our support to be proven right."
Add up the comments by leaders from different ends of the spectrum in Charlotte, American's second-largest hub, and it is hard to avoid the conclusion that Parker, in his 16th year as an airline CEO, is exceptional.
If so, then giving $830 million in raises, outside of normal contract negotiations, may be his defining accomplishment.
The move was panned by Wall Street. Shares fell 9% over the next three trading days. But on Tuesday, shares closed at $46.66, very nearly the closing price on the evening American announced the pay raises. And some on Wall Street are reconsidering the initial harsh reaction.
The move "raises costs in the near-term but also signals a willingness to engage and treat employees with respect, which we think creates significant goodwill and fosters an environment for meaningful operational improvement," Barclays analyst Brandon Oglenski wrote in a report on May 15.The airline industry is peculiar. In a country where many people seem to delight in union bashing, it is both heavily unionized and highly profitable. American is 85% unionized. Parker long ago figured out that he should work with unions.