I’d like to thank Kathy, the angel from Southwest Airlines who inspired today’s post about remembering the “why.”
While on a business trip to northern California with a colleague last week, the cold I had been nursing took a horrible turn for the worse in the early hours before an important customer meeting. Lying prostrate between trips to the bathroom and in need of a miracle, I couldn’t help but find cruel irony in the fact that Santa Rosa’s Cleansing Ministries Rejuvenation Center was hours away from opening.
Not sure if you’ve ever found yourself in a situation like this but, despite Homer Simpson’s reassurance that stories of degradation and humiliation make you more popular, my sole focus was to try to figure out a way to make it through the meeting without soiling myself. And to get home. Other than prayer, the only solution I could come up with was to avoid all solids and liquids until the coast was clear.
I would, in fact, make it through the meeting but on the drive to the Oakland Airport to make our 5 PM flight home I received the following text as the effects of illness and dehydration were becoming excruciatingly unbearable :
SWA Flight 915 on March 19 from OAK has changed. New estimated departure is 9:20 PM. We encourage you to check Flight Status.
I don’t let travel delays get me wound up but in light of my state, I wanted nothing more than to get home and this was devastating news.
With all the earlier flights totally booked, there wasn’t much we could do other than add our names to the standby list, which, these days, have become capitalism’s answer to the Russian breadline. With airlines running at capacity, even during normal circumstances, one’s chances of getting on a different plane are small; add to that some major airport/weather issue and they merely serve to placate the masses.
Around 2 PM, wandering the airport, we decided to check our luck and our options one more time. It’s here I would meet Kathy, the Southwest Airlines gate agent. Assigned there as a “float,” her colleague informed me that whenever Kathy flapped her wings and landed, good things seemed to happen. After a quick survey of our situation Kathy confirmed what we already knew, however, rather than hand back our boarding passes she continued to search for an alternative. And find one she did.
New boarding passes were printed out and we were now on a 3:30 PM flight heading back home.
On receiving the boarding passes I told Kathy she couldn’t imagine how much it meant to me and that if I wasn’t sick I’d give her a hug. She understood and suggested a fist bump instead.
I fly Southwest Airlines whenever I can and employees like Kathy are one of the biggest reasons why. Despite being in a heavily commoditized industry, Southwest never forgets why they are in business and, as such, their employees seem to be continually grounded by the better angels of our nature.
There is nothing like being down and out in an airport lost in a crowd of thousands to remind us of the power of luv.
Much like Southwest Airlines, Evaero finds itself in a highly commoditized industry; consequently, profit margins rarely serve as an answer to why I (and many others) go to work everyday.
Let’s compare the four percent in operating income we’ll make this fiscal year to the numbers posted by some aerospace stalwarts:
- Honeywell at 14.4 percent for the 12 months ending 12/31/2014
- General Dynamics at 12.6 percent for the 12 months ending 12/31/2014
- Raytheon at 13.9 percent for the 12 months ending 12/31/2014
- Precision Castparts at a staggering 27.8 percent for the 52 weeks ending 3/30/2014
If it were all about profit margin, I’d do well to think of ways to reconfigure Evaero’s CNC machinist training program to produce baristas instead (Starbucks at 18.7%).
Searching for the “Why”
While planning our son’s sixth birthday, we asked him to choose between a big party where we would be asking guests to forgo gifts in favor of diaper donations to support the Diaper Bank or a smaller gathering without gift restrictions. He chose the big party and we rented one of those big blowup water slides for the occasion. When the rental company picked up the slide at the end of the day a young man commented to me that the reason he loved his job was seeing the smiles on the kids faces when they saw the slide. He followed that up with:
I don’t make a lot of money so I’ve got to remember the “why” in my job.
For our angel Kathy the why is probably seeing the sheer happiness on my face because she had made it possible for me to get home and tuck my son in bed that night; for Evaero the why is embedded in an email like the one we got two weeks ago from the Global Procurement Manager of one of the companies listed above:
I just wanted to personally thank you and your whole team for an amazing job, well done. You exceeded even my best expectations, getting us all the parts in less time than we were trying to get the first half of them. Thank everyone for me and let them know just how important this was and how appreciative the whole site is.
Besides making things, we are rewarded each day. We manufacture peace of mind for our customers and, regardless of the effect commoditization has on our income statement, it’s something we can never forget.
Southwest Airlines and employees like Kathy never forget why they are in business. It really is about luv…and it’s why they don’t charge for bags.
In honor of Kathy and the awesome city of Oakland, California I wanted to leave you with a song from the Oakland-based musician Fantastic Negrito (real name Xavier Dphrepaulezz). From the article that introduced me to him:
Fantastic Negrito calls himself a musician reborn. As a young man, the Oakland singer taught himself to play just about every instrument he could get his hands on. But after making a record that failed to take off, he felt his confidence and artistry suffer; disenchanted with music, he simply quit. The years that followed brought major life changes: a near-deadly car accident and the resulting coma, intense rehabilitation, marriage and the birth of his son. Now, renewed creative energy has spawned the musical project that is Fantastic Negrito. He chose the name, he says, as ‘a celebration of blackness. The ‘Fantastic’ is self-explanatory; the ‘Negrito’ is a way to open blackness up to everyone, making it playful and international.’
Filmed in a freight elevator in Oakland behind a desk made of a steel sheet, the video, which won NPR’s Tiny Desk Concert Contest, is of the song Lost in a Crowd. From a tweet from @QuesoRepublic on Fantastic Negrito’s web page:
The rest of 2015 looks like scorched earth, cause y’all bout to set the world on fire.
Video not displaying properly? Click here.
Having said that, I am interested to hear from you. Good, bad, or otherwise, please feel free to drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org. I’m the only person who will read your email and, as time allows, I’ll do my best, at a minimum, to personally acknowledge receipt.