Last week was the week of Oscar Munoz—at least for me, anyways. The United Airlines’ CEO was featured in back-to-back stories on PRWeek. The first article focuses mainly on Munoz himself, his meteoric rise to the top and why he was chosen to receive PRWeek’s U.S. Communicator of the Year award. The second one compares him with Uber’s CEO, Travis Kalanick, discussing how the nature of leadership can make or break a company.
After reading the two articles, I have come to realize why exactly Munoz is so great and why CEOs like him are setting a new standard for leadership.
Born in Mexico and raised in Southern California, Munoz comes from a blue-collar family and began working his way up the corporate ranks in finance at PepsiCola, Coca-Cola and AT & T before he was named president of railroad operator CSX and then United.
While at United, Munoz has gained the support and trust from employees at all levels, even winning praise form the union bosses for his easy rapport with shop-floor employees, a feat that is not easily accomplished in any industry. Munoz’s mantra is “An airline is a people business—we have 86,000 of them and two-thirds of them have to get up every morning, every day and every shift and do the right thing.”
Kalanick’s critics believe that the young Uber CEO should take a page out of Munoz’s book. Kalanick has recently come under fire for turning a blind-eye to sexual harassment and homophobic behavior in the work place, stealing intellectual property to avoid detection in cities where Uber is banned and for a video that was released of Kalanick talking down to an Uber driver.
This all raises the question as to whether CEOs can continue to remain distanced from employee communications and the company culture. In Munoz’s case, this is a hard pass and United has been reaping the benefits from it since he joined the team in 2015.
It doesn’t take a PR professional to know that the world in which we currently live is media-rich. There is a head-spinning amount of reported news within the span of a day and it can all be accessed with a simple click. And it’s easier to shed a negative light on a company now more than ever before.
With this being said, that old adage that says that leadership filters from the top down is now truer than ever. A false step, a drunken video, an intolerant thought voiced aloud can alter how the public sees a company and a brand, no matter how high that employee ranks.