Delta Air Lines CEO Ed Bastian On Leading Through The Darkest Days

In this edition of our Corporate Competitor Podcast, Delta leader Ed Bastian explores the ups and downs of his extraordinary success leading the carrier back from the brink of bankruptcy and through the pandemic—and offers lessons on leading with purpose.

Delta Air Lines CEO Ed Bastian

As the oldest  of nine children, Ed Bastian learned young how to be a crisis manager. But no childhood bathroom squabble could prepare him for the challenge of leading a world class company like Delta Air Lines through years of challenge to become the most profitable competitor in its industry.

As he told Corporate Competitor Podcast, he didn’t even step on a plane until the age of 25, but his decades-long love affair with Atlanta’s largest employer was built on the belief that organizations, even one as big and as far-flung as Delta, can only thrive when they are driven by their purpose over their profits.

“The story of Delta Air Lines is the story of redemption, and redemption is a powerful story,” Bastian said. Under Bastian’s leadership, Delta faced down U.S. Air’s attempt to take over the airlines when it teetered on the brink of bankruptcy and he then rebuilt the company into the world’s most profitable airline, only to watch 95 percent of their hard-won revenue disappear in the first 30 days of the Covid pandemic.

A lesser leader might have thrown in the towel, but Bastian doubled down on Delta’s mission of “taking care of each other and our customers” and, once again, is guiding Delta back to cruising altitude as the industry standard.

You will learn:

3:00   How to influence when you do not have authority.

13:00  They key to “self” motivation.

14:00  How to commit yourself to being a lifelong learner.

21:00  The origin of Delta’s tagline “keep climbing.”

24:00  The importance of visible leadership.

33:00  The $1.6 billion “thank you” he gave employees after beating bankruptcy.

35:00  The “dare” that led Bastian to run his first marathon at the tender age of 58.

35:00  How Ed spends 50 percent of his time (hint: it’s not in his office).

So, come on board, adjust your seat back to a comfortable position and listen to Corporate Competitor Podcast.

Check out the full Corporate Competitor Podcast interview archive and subscribe to new episodes.


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