Leadership Mix Concerns Delta Workers

Dec 31, 2008
By Andrew Compart

Some Delta workers are worried about the number of Northwest executives and officers given leadership positions in the post-merger airline.

A representative of one of the work groups spelled out these concerns in a letter he e-mailed to employees earlier this month. But the representative also staunchly defended the leadership selections and urged employees to keep an open mind.

The message came from Joe Piller, who represents the supervisory and administrative personnel group on the Delta Board Council. The council meets with airline executives and attends board meetings to represent Delta non-contract employees and provide insight on their perspectives, concerns and ideas, and Piller’s group accounts for about 10% of the non-contract employees at the pre-merger Delta.

In July, Delta unveiled a nine-member leadership team for the post-merger carrier that included five of its most senior executives, and four from Northwest. In an additional announcement Oct. 31, two days after the merger became official, Delta announced more leadership changes that included internal promotions for COO and CFO, and a mix of Delta and Northwest executives and officers for other positions.

In Piller’s e-mail, distributed only internally but obtained by AviationWeek, Piller tells workers the Board Council has heard their concerns about the makeup of the post-merger leadership. Piller did not say how many employees expressed such concerns, and did not respond to AviationWeek requests for comment.

“As organizational charts for the new Delta are being published, Delta people are asking the Board Council questions concerning Northwest co-workers and how they will fit within the Delta culture,” Piller wrote. “Some have told us, ‘It seems like we have more Northwest leaders than pre-merger Delta leaders in the new company. Will they carry-on the Delta culture that is legacy and heritage valued by generations of Delta people and customers?’”

But Piller also tries to allay those concerns in his message, which he sent solely to members of the work group he represents, although the message apparently has since been passed on to other workers as well.

“There is no question the Delta that we know today will most definitely change with the blending of talent from both companies as we combine the strengths of two great airlines into one,” he said. “I think we can’t forget that the success of Delta is a history of mergers and acquisitions which have changed the business and the culture for the better over time. I know Delta will continue to grow on the foundation we have built over the last 79 years and will now include the best from Northwest. I also believe the new Delta will carry-on the fundamental principles that have made Delta a great airline.”

“As I’ve said, Delta people are concerned by the arrival of so many new leaders and co-workers from Northwest,” Piller continued. “What we have to remember is that no one is really ‘born’ at Delta...well, except for perhaps a few second and third generation Delta people. Most of us come to Delta from somewhere else; Pan Am, Western, the military or a company outside of the industry. I think it’s more important to see what kind of people these new leaders and co-workers are from Northwest, what they believe in and do they have the Delta DNA that makes our culture unique.”

Piller asked workers to “keep in mind recent successful leaders and colleagues who came to us from other companies.” He cited former CEO Jerry Grinstein as “the perfect example of a leader who was not ‘born” at Delta.” He also cited current CEO Richard Anderson, who spent 14 years in leadership positions at Northwest but “has made a commitment to manage by the values of the Delta culture” by putting the airline’s guiding principles in writing.

“For Delta people who fear Delta’s culture will be unrecognizable in a couple of years because of the merger, I think we’ll see that some aspects of Delta’s culture will certainly change like it did with previous mergers in our history. But that change will be shaped by Delta people,” Piller assured them. “The culture of a company can certainly be guided by its leaders, but it is owned by its employees and customers. It is the responsibility of every Delta employee to keep the best parts of our culture and heritage and pass it along to the new members of the Delta family regardless of how they come to Delta.”

Delta declined to comment on Piller’s message.

Photo: Delta

Aviation Week

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