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Former Continental Airlines CEO Gordon Bethune Shares Success Story at AMI Expo

Friday, April 15, 2011

(American Meat Institute)

Former Continental Airlines CEO Gordon Bethune shared his journey from mechanic to head of a major airline and what it took to turn the struggling company around during a lively General Session today at the 2011 AMI Meat, Poultry & Seafood Industry Convention and Exposition at McCormick Place in Chicago, Ill.

Bethune mixed humor with important insights as he detailed the four-part approach (marketing, financial, product and people plans) he implemented when he joined Continental Airlines in 1994. At the time, the airline was consistently ranked last in every measurable performance metric. When Bethune was finished, the airline stood at the top of the heap.

Bethune’s marketing strategy, “Fly to Win,” meant changing destinations, offering frequent flyer incentives and a new business class package.

“You can make a pizza so cheap no one would eat it. You can make an airline so cheap, no one will fly it,” Bethune said.

Bethune’s financial plan, “Fund the Future” consisted of sending back inventory and reinvesting into the company. Using this capital, he created a more fuel-efficient fleet.

When it came to drafting a product plan, Bethune said he asked himself, “How do you win when you are in (last) place? You have to have a good product. We were not a good product.”

Bethune knew that what customers wanted most was to arrive on time to their destinations, so he offered everyone in the company incentives for meeting performance benchmarks.

The final component of Bethune’s strategy -- the people plan ­-- started with communications. Bethune made sure employees were heard and that they were informed. He also implemented a profit-sharing system and rewards for dependability.

“There is a 100 percent correlation between employee satisfaction and customer satisfaction,” Bethune said.

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