“We lost control.”
—David Neeleman, CEO, JetBlue
My employer, Franklin Watts, was an old-time book salesman who used to cover vast territories by train. In those days, a salesman would travel with a trunk filled with new books, set up a mini-store in a hotel room and invite his buyer-chums in to learn about the upcoming titles and do some serious drinking.
Enter the jet plane, and trunks were done away with. You carried a satchel filled with book jackets of forthcoming titles and order forms. This was book-selling lite.
In one nasty winter storm, I found myself sitting next to McKinsey & Co. partner Ward Howell on a TWA flight to Pittsburgh, which was socked in with snow. We landed in Cincinnati. My luggage and sample case never made it.
I called Frank and he gave me two pieces of advice that are etched in my memory: (1) Always carry your sample case with you (or the material you need to conduct business); never check it; (2) Get back on your original schedule as quickly as possible, even if it means missing a city or two.
Frank’s logic was impeccable. I had a complex itinerary and precise dates with buyers city-by-city. In the era before cell phones and the Internet, calling to cancel a few sales dates because of the weather was easy; rescheduling an entire two-week trip from a hotel room phone would have been a nightmare.
David Neeleman: Hotshot Who Thought He Knew Better
JetBlue’s David Neeleman, described in Inc. as “a famously frenetic 44-year-old Mormon with nine kids and attention deficit disorder,” sold tickets on the cheap and ran his airline on the cheap.
He was young, brash and thought he knew better than his fuddy-duddy competitors in the legacy airlines that got through the weather crunch with minimum loss of revenue and inconvenience to passengers.