I haven’t blogged in awhile, so it’s a shame that something like this would drive my fingers to the keyboard.
Someone I know very well recently applied to be the Chief Pilot for the flight department of a Fortune 100 company in the northeast. This flight department has been plagued by strife and issues in the last several years. A new vice-president for flight operations and director were installed about two years ago to bring some necessary changes to the place, but while they had some great ideas for reform, they replaced too many of the “old guard” with new hires who came from backgrounds outside of corporate aviation and had no experience with international operations. The resulting strife led the CEO to fire the leadership of the department and look to hire replacements. The search for a new director lasted several months and oddly enough, the director chosen (after several people refused the job) had virtually no international experience and came from a fractional background. One of his first acts was to replace one of his management personnel, in this case the manager of flight operations/dispatch, with one his cronies from his former place of employment. In his first few months of employment this new director has inspired dissension in the ranks of his people to the point that a pool currently exists among the pilots as to how long he will remain in the job.
So enter my friend and his application for the Chief Pilot position. The ad is placed and is responded to by a whopping 7 applicants, one of whom is my friend. In addition to his resume (which is extensive – he probably has a better range of leadership and Chief Pilot experience than 99% of the candidates out there), he submits a cover letter that is blunt about his leadership skills and his philosophy. “If you want to unite your people and inspire them to change, I’m your guy,” my friend says. “If you’re looking for a ‘yes man’ to maintain the status quo, I’m definitely not your guy.” He never receives a phone screening and is directly emailed an invitation to interview. Naively thinking he might actually have a shot at the position, my friend flies to the company’s corporate headquarters, interviews with the recruiter, the executive who has oversight responsibility for the department, the HR liaison for the department and finally with the director himself. The interview seems to go well and he is told that he’ll be given the results in approximately a week’s time.
A week passes and through the grapevine, my friend finds out he wasn’t the one hired. Five more days pass and finally, my friend emails this director a very gently- worded note inquiring as to the status of the hiring process. The director calls five minutes later and tells my friend that he (the director) “decided to go in a different direction” and was “too busy” to drop an email or make a phone call informing my friend he wasn’t selected.
And he’s the best part: my friend learns that the director hired, yes you guessed it, another one of his former co-workers/subordinates from his former company to be the new chief pilot. Another crony.
Fortunately, my friend is one of those who, like me, believes in the “everything happens for a reason” mentality and he’s at peace with the situation, but I find myself shaking my head.
It’s just this sort of thing that gives our industry a bad name.
If the director had managed to open his eyes and really assess the culture around him; if he had bothered to take the pulse of this organization and the people who comprise it, he would have seen how the act of hiring his own cronies would create an “us versus them” dynamic. Instead, it was more important for him to bring in people he knew than people who might actually be able to get the job done. Hiring is an art, not a science. Resumes are part of it but “fit” is another and in this case, the director completely ignored the latter. I guess, like many who grow up in aviation organizations, he never learned how to understand organizational culture and the implications of a decision like this one. If one was starting a company from the ground up, perhaps one might want to staff it with team members that knew one another. But when you’re taking command of a divided, contentious and frankly, spoiled, group like this one, hiring cronies won’t work. You need objectivity. You need a leader who the subordinates believe will challenge you on their behalf. You need someone they can believe in. But instead, the director hired a “yes man” and did so in a manner that attempted to camouflage the decision, which speaks volumes about both his mentality and integrity.
I told my friend to keep his pencil sharp. There’s a mutiny building in this department and it will manifest itself sooner rather than later. Once again there will be drama, a consistent presence in our industry and yet its greatest detraction. There will be angst and there will be personnel action. Yet again the executive leadership will wring its hands and be forced to hire new department leadership and both the director and chief pilot positions will be open again.
If they don’t decide to hand the whole mess off to a management company.
Unfortunately, it is not restricted to corporate America, it is alive and well in the government. As administrations change, observe the crony population that comes out of the cracks in the walls. Unfortunately, they are often more than buddies, they are campaign contributors. My dad was an Assistant US Attorney in Philadelphia, and around 1960, he asked the local Office Chief for one of the US Senators from PA if his boss would sponsor my dad for a Federal District Judgeship. The response was “sure, but I don’t know of a single one that has gone for less than $25,000”, (today that is approximately $200,000). My dad never became a Federal District Judge, but as new judges were appointed, one could just follow the political trail for each.
It is like picking a winning NFL team. Do you want the coaches and players to be your good old buddies, or do you want them to be highly qualified and capable? In the latter case, it may challenge your capabilities to orchestrate their talent into a winning team, but the probability of creating a winning team from the crony approach is nonexistent.