RESEARCH & IDEAS
Come Fly with Me: A History of Airline Leadership
Q&A with: Anthony J. Mayo Published: November 9, 2009 Author: Sarah Jane Gilbert A new book looks at the history of the U.S. aviation industry through the eyes of its entrepreneurs, managers, and leaders—men like Pan Am's Juan Trippe and Southwest Airlines' Herb Kelleher—each emerging at different stages of the industry'sevolution from start-up to rebirth. Who comes next? An interview with coauthor Anthony J. Mayo. Key concepts include: • While disruptive forces can change an industry, so too can leaders themselves by the manner in which they run their enterprises. • Different archetypes of leaders emerged as the U.S. airline industry evolved from start-up phase through deregulation and the shock of September 11,2001. • Airlines seem ripe for a new form of leadership to reenergize the industry. leaders. Our first book, In Their Time: The Greatest Business Leaders of the Twentieth Century (Harvard Business Press), explored these three archetypes within the context of the 20th century. Following on this initial research, we sought to identify the role of entrepreneurs, managers, and leaders within one specificindustry. Q: Did your archetypes still ring true when you applied them to the airline industry? A: In our research, we saw a clear link between these three archetypes and the evolution of the airline industry. While all three archetypes are present at each stage of an industry life cycle, there are certain concentrated times that favor each one. Entrepreneurs are the dominant leadership archetypein the early start-up phase of an industry, especially as different players try to establish a viable business model. This was the case in the airline industry in the early years of the 20th century when various entrepreneurs competed for dominance. During this time, success was dependent on securing U.S. airmail contracts as well as on reliable and safe aircraft. Access to government officials,sources of capital, and technical expertise were important components of leadership. Once an industry grows, the playing field is leveled, where one or two business models gain dominance, and managers who thrive in maximizing opportunities become the primary leadership archetype. The growth phase of the airline industry was framed by massive government regulation. Successful airline executives wereable to navigate the structures of regulation during this stage. As an industry peaks and begins to decline, leaders take center stage. Leaders are change agents who see opportunities and promise where others see only defeat. That was certainly the case for Southwest and JetBlue because these companies defined a new business model of success. Q: Explain the relationship between the leadershipstyles of airline CEOs and the industry's "contextual landscape"?
"Leaders are change agents who see opportunities and promise where others see only defeat."
At each stage of aviation's business life cycle—start-up, growth, maturity, decline, rebirth—new types of leaders emerged, such as entrepreneur C.E. Woolman at Delta in the 1920s and '30s; professional manager Juan Trippe at Pan Am duringthe war years; and innovator Herb Kelleher at Southwest near the end of the century. In this e-mail interview, Mayo, director of the HBS Leadership Initiative and the Thomas S. Murphy Distinguished Research Fellow, discusses how executives representing different leadership archetypes emerged as the industry went through its life-cycle stages. (Read a book excerpt on Herb Kelleher and SouthwestAirlines below.) Sarah Jane Gilbert: Your research on the airline industry explores three types of executives: the entrepreneur, manager, and leader. How are they different, and how do they relate to the industry life cycle? Tony Mayo: My research with Nitin Nohria on entrepreneurs, managers, and leaders of the 20th century began with the creation of the Great American Business Leaders database about...
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