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Recent changes in
executive leadership at Delta Air Lines show the depth of the carrier’s bench.
Confident in its current strategy, Delta plans to stay the course on such
priorities as employee engagement, commitment to corporates and integrated
BTN: Richard Anderson will transition to the position of
executive chairman in May, and Ed Bastian will take the helm as CEO. There are
a host of other changes down the bench, as well. Can you boil down what these
changes mean for corporate clients?
Sear: The Delta
leadership succession has been very effective. Richard is retiring in May and
we are going to miss him, but he leaves a great legacy: The Flight Plan, Rules
of the Road, The Way We Fly. What’s been the driver in this transition is the
depth of the leadership team. We have Ed [Bastian] as the CEO. [He and Richard
Anderson] have been working together hand in hand for the past decade. With
Glen [Hauenstein] appointed to president and Gil [West] appointed to senior
executive vice president and chief operations officer, it shows the commitment
and continuity that Delta is going to provide for corporate customers. We
continue to be confident in our strategy, and we are going to stay the course.
We focus on our employees and having them the most engaged. They take care of
our customers, and that, in turn, takes care of our shareholders. We are going
to stay focused on our culture and making sure Delta employees are the best in
BTN: Your position has changed, as well. As president of
international and executive vice president of global sales, how are your responsibilities
Sear: I’ll remain
focused on our global sales activities for the corporate and agency community.
The globalization is the natural outcome of where our corporation and agency
partners are growing and moving, as well. As we expand our programs and
initiatives worldwide, we will do that organically—and more so with our
alliance partners. Where we are making those investments—whether in China,
Mexico or Brazil or the U.K.—those investments are in the markets where
corporate travelers fly.
BTN: Delta has ongoing joint-venture initiatives and
equity partnerships in those markets. How are you leveraging them, and how does
the nature of these partnerships benefit corporate clients?
Sear: Delta has
the most integrated joint ventures, where we share bottom lines. That makes the
companies in the joint venture think about the customer first and foremost.
Unique also are the equity positions that Delta has taken in [some] alliance
partners. Virgin Atlantic is an example where we were able to quickly work
together to provide seamless service between the U.K. and the United States.
You will see similar activities in Mexico [with Aeromexico], pending government
approval of the joint venture and [antitrust immunity], and continued focus in
Brazil with our partner Gol. We also will continue to build our connectivity
and joint programs with China Eastern with its core hub in Shanghai.
BTN: On the international front, how well is Delta positioned
Sear: We are
positioned incredibly well. In Latin America, we just won three Latin trade
awards as the best North American airline. … In Asia, we just won awards with
TTG China among others, and as we build out our China Eastern hub, we’ll
continue to increase our brand presence there. In Europe, [we have] the most
integrated and effective joint ventures, with AF/KLM Alitalia and to the U.K. with Virgin Atlantic. But
this is the most competitive and complex industry in the world, and that’s what
makes it fun.
BTN: On the domestic front, United has responded to
Delta’s Operational Performance Commitment. Plus, United posted improved
performance numbers out of the gate in 2016. How is that shaping up?
Sear: We are by
far the most reliable airline, and at the core are the Delta people. … They are the most engaged and committed to
providing on-time service. In 2015 for the calendar year, we were No. 1 both in
the completion factor and arrival categories, and that trend continued in
January when we were No. 1 [in those categories again]. If you look at Winter
Storm Jonas, we had the fewest cancels in the New York area: [Delta had] 2,000,
while some of our competitors had up to three times that. We were the first to
operate after the storm on Monday, when most carriers didn’t open up until
Tuesday. That shows not only our commitment to operational excellence on “blue
sky” days but our ability to perform when situations are not ideal. We are
confident that we will continue to lead the industry. It also shows our
corporate clients that [in terms of] the total cost of travel, above and beyond
the contract, Delta provides a better savings proposition because of the
BTN: What are you watching in 2016?
Sear: On the sales front, we are committed to our
easy-to-do-business-with strategy. Part of that will be continued
simplification of contracts, continued 24/7/365 sales support on a global basis
and continued leveraging of our technology investments to improve our B2B
partnerships. On the global front, we are so bullish with the opportunities we
have with our alliance partners, and our level of integration with them is
unprecedented. This will help us find opportunities to enhance our value
proposition for customers and our overall performance.
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