American Airlines CEO offers encouragement
Business students, some of whom are graduating into the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, received encouragement from a prominent business leader Thursday afternoon.
Eli Hull, The Oklahoma Daily
Chairman and CEO of American Airlines Gerard Arpey spoke to students in the Oklahoma Memorial Union about persevering in tough economic times and also gave business tips.
“Life is difficult,” Arpey said. “I didn’t come here to depress you, but I focus on suffering so we can figure out how to confront this reality.”
He highlighted the story of Abraham Lincoln, mentioning him as someone who rose above his struggles to become something great.
“Just like Lincoln, we need to build our character and hope for a better future,” he said.
He said the problems today arise from an “unwillingness to confront our personal realities,” such as the government’s policy of deficit spending. He said while the government should be involved in social issues like health care and global warming, “we should not embark on new initiatives we cannot afford.”
Arpey then concluded his speech with a plea for empathy.
“If you are not empathetic to others who are suffering, you won’t make good judgments,” he said. “It will affect the way you run your business, and it will affect your family too.”
Arpey then opened up the floor for questions from students and Price College of Business alumni.
He was asked about his challenges as CEO and what it was like for him as an American Airlines officer during 9/11.
“We made some hard decisions that day,” he said. “We lost two planes, and then after 9/11 people stopped flying.”
Arpey said the choices his airline made in 2003 and 2004 saved the company from having to file for bankruptcy in the present economic downturn.
“The realities we face is that we are in a tough business even in good times,” he said. “We make difficult choices and confront reality full force.”
OU President David Boren made some final remarks to close out the event.
“I’ve never seen anyone, either in business or politics, who makes decisions without greater integrity than Gerard Arpey,” he said. “It’s a privilege to know and have worked with him.”
Boren sits on the Board of Directors Governance Committee for American Airlines and worked with Arpey in making labor and contract decisions.