Integrity and Growth with Alaska Airlines’ President Ben Minicucci | Recap – December 2019 BDA Breakfast
For our last BDA Breakfast of the year, we were joined by Alaska Airlines’ president Ben Minicucci, where he shared the company’s values for successful and sustainable growth and what we can all do when facing the challenges of change. Given Alaska’s immense expansion over recent years, there were quite a few takeaways from the morning’s conversation that were perfectly applicable to the growth and change happening in our region. Here are a few key highlights on what Minicucci had to say about managing growth, maintaining integrity throughout the process, and what the airline sees for both their own (and Bellevue’s) future.
- Your People (or place) is everything.
Right off the bat, Minicucci shared what he feels is Alaska’s greatest asset: their people. From the ground-up, Alaska has formed a company culture where all perspectives are taken into account. From the maintenance crew to the pilots in air, Alaska sees imperative value in making sure everyone is plugged into their company mission and feels empowered to further the company’s values in each and every experience. He shared a particularly moving narrative of a father who was sending his young son on a flight back to his mother across the country. An Alaska flight crew member noticed how upset the father and son were about parting, and went above and beyond - before the flight had taken off, the young boy was waving goodbye to his dad from the window of the cockpit. Minicucci recounted how the father had written to Alaska to share this story, and how that level of care was unexpected but extremely impactful to his loyalty to the airline. The audience at December’s Breakfast knew what to take from this: if you empower your team to do the right thing, you’ll impact people’s lives and gain trust. And that trust, Minicucci said, is critical to navigating the challenges of growth as a city.
- Have high standards, even if it’s difficult.
Of course, being an airline, Minicucci didn’t waste time in using a safety example: Alaska’s entire operation “can be stopped at any time, for any reason – and our employees know that,” Minicucci said. Even with the hurdles the company faced when acquiring Virgin America, Alaska knew that maintaining core values is critical when it comes to a successful transition. Minicucci relayed the message back to our urban leaders by saying growth must be managed correctly from the get-go, because without a strategy, problems come to fruition that damage trust and credibility.
- The opportunity for success is here. We just need to manage it.
While much of the morning was spent discussing lessons learned through Alaska’s growth as a company, Minicucci didn’t stop short of bringing the airline’s wisdom back to our urban issues. Much of Alaska’s success runs parallel to the experiences of our growing cities, he said. And with that, comes the need to grow responsibly, sustainably and successfully. Minicucci’s advice? To ensure that our cities are asking the tough questions early on and are growing strategically – something he said Bellevue and the Eastside are doing particularly well. He shared his desire to show out of town friends and colleagues everything Bellevue has to offer.
The breakfast wrapped up with a fireside Q & A between Minicucci and the BDA’s incoming board chair, Jill Scheuermann. The two discussed Minicucci’s history as a member of the Canadian Armed Forces, how he built his leadership style, the ways in which Alaska created such a strong regional brand, and where he plans to take the company as they grow for the future. Minicucci left everyone with his parting advice: solving our big problems comes down to something simple – we need to figure out the “what” before you can tackle the “how.”
“If you never get to the what, you can’t get to the how,” Minicucci said. “That’s what we all need to do more of; figure out what we want to be so then we can figure out how to get there.”
BDA staff and the audience agreed: it’s solid advice, and that as a community, we’re sure to take off with.