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Oscar Munoz with Turnaround Time: Uniting an Airline and Its Employees in the Friendly Skies
Oscar Munoz served as the CEO and chairman of United Airlines, previously holding several executive leadership positions at CSX, AT&T, US West, PepsiCo and Coca-Cola. He serves on the board of directors of Salesforce, CBRE, TelevisaUnivision, and Archer Aviation; is a trustee of the University of Southern California ad the Brookings Institution; and is an independent trustee for Fidelity. He earned his bachelor’s degree the University of Southern California and an MBA from Pepperdine. To date, he remans the only person of Hispanic heritage to run a US airline.
About Turnaround Time
Around the world and around the clock, the people of United Airlines are locked in a struggle against time to ensure your aircraft lands and takes off for another flight safely and efficiently. This “turnaround time” is the heartbeat of an industry in which the margin for error is nil and success is measured by fractions of a second.
Turning around an aircraft and turning around an airline are very different challenges in most respects, except one: it takes a united team to perform it well.
In 2015, when Oscar Munoz took the helm of this iconic brand, its culture was anything but united and its reputation was in free fall. A merger with its onetime rival Continental had stalled, operational and financial performance was badly trailing those of its competitors, and the bonds of trust with shareholders, customers, and employees had reached a breaking point.
Setting out an ambitious plan to rejuvenate the company, Oscar learned that there was nothing wrong at United that couldn’t be fixed by championing what was right—the employees themselves.
Meanwhile, only a month into the job, Oscar suffered a near-fatal heart attack that set in motion a race against the clock to find a heart transplant to save his life, even as he fought to salvage his vision for United’s revival. The health emergency might have been the end of the story—until employees and union leaders rallied around Oscar, inspiring him to pull through, something he did within weeks following a successful procedure.
Oscar and the people he led, both with new leases on life, would go on to weather more turbulence, overcoming battles with investors and navigating several PR crises—including a global pandemic—to deliver top-tier operational performance, strong returns to shareholders, and ascending levels of customer satisfaction. By the end of his tenure, the people of United were finally flying together as one team, defying pessimism from industry insiders and rekindling optimism from employees and the customers they served.
With candor, humor, and heartfelt wisdom, Oscar reveals how he rose from humble immigrant origins to lead United Airlines through one of modern business’s greatest corporate turnarounds. He offers soulful, much-needed leadership lessons for today’s world: listening with empathy, standing up for employees, building durable cultures that are profitable because they’re principled, and advancing a vision for a genuinely inclusive economy for the future.