Sep. 13, 2004: A One-on-One Conversation With Delta’s CEO


Knock! Knock! Knock!

“Come in, young man.”

“Mr. Grinstein, my name is Rigby and I think you wanted to see me?”

“Yes, I did, Rigby. I believe you are in Shipping and Receiving. I wanted to ask you how the Delta employees reacted to my speech last week about what I plan to do to turn this airline around after that bunch of dumb clucks almost ran it in the ground. Rescuing faltering businesses is what I am all about, you know.

“Yessir, Mr. Grinstein, I appreciate… ”

“Excuse me, Smigby, but please call me ‘Gerry’. You and I are on the same team, son. Just two regular guys trying to right the ship, so to speak. Both of us trying to clean up the mess that Leo Mullin and his crowd made. What a screw-up that guy was. I don’t know how he ever got the job. Now, tell me about the reaction to my speech.”

“Gee, thanks, Gerry. As you know, most employees are ready to make whatever sacrifice we can to save Delta, but we are still confused about who got us into this predicament. They gave me some questions to ask you.”

“Wonderful. That’s why I’m here. Fire away, Bigby.”

“First, they want to know who foisted Leo Mullin off on us. We were doing just fine before he got here, but somebody decided they didn’t like Delta’s management team and brought in the crowd that got us into the mess we are in today. Some employees think that was you, Gerry. They think Mullin was your fair-haired boy and that you are the one responsible for making him CEO.”

“Listen, Digby. That was a long time ago. Do you people think that I can remember every little miniscule detail that happens in this business? I mean, all you have to do is stamp a bunch of boxes or something. I am trying to rescue an airline. I have more important things to think about. How do you expect me to remember something as trivial as that? And get your feet off my desk.”

“Sorry, Gerry. We also have another question that has been bugging us. Delta employees have endured a lot these past several years. But not upper management. While Delta was hemorrhaging money, that bunch of dimwits was giving themselves huge bonuses and pension protections and threatening the rest of us with job losses and pay cuts. They damn near ruined the company.”

“I couldn’t agree more, Figby. I was as shocked as you when I read that in the paper. After all, I was chairman of the board of directors when that happened. I couldn’t believe it. How could they do such a thing? That is why I reluctantly had to take over as CEO and get rid of that guy, Whatshisname. That person that I didn’t know very well. In fact, hardly knew him at all.”

“His name was Leo Mullin, Gerry, and that brings up a question. If you were chairman of the board, didn’t management have to run these things by you? Some of the employees are wondering if maybe Mullin forgot to tell you, or if he did, how could you and the board have approved the pay plan?”

“Dammit, Smigby, I have already told you that I can’t keep up with every little tiny detail. I may have been in the john when that subject came up, or clipping my nails. If you can remember little stuff like that, maybe you folks in Shipping & Receiving have too much time on your hands.

“But Gerry …”

“‘Mr. Grinstein’ to you, and that is all the time I have. I suggest you get back to work while you still have a job and before I cut your benefits and send you to Dallas.”

“Yes, Mr. Grinstein.”

“Oh, Schnigby, please tell your colleagues that my door is always open. But tell them I don’t have time to talk about who hired Leo Mullin and who approved his cockamamie executive pay scheme. I’m too busy trying to rescue an airline. Good day.”