The recent machinists strike and subsequent bankruptcy filing by Eastern Airlines is not another traditional labor-management conflict. It simply shows very poor leadership by senior management. Frank Lorenzo may be a financial whiz-bang but he does not know how to run an airline.
What’s more, Lorenzo gives business and management a bad name. He uses the “us against them” approach to labor relations that was common during the first half of this century. The best companies today, those that successfully compete against imports, those that are growing the fastest, those that are leading America to become strong again, all have one thing in common. They see all their employees from the janitor to the chief executive as partners working together toward a common goal.
They respect the intelligence and contributions of their people. When management tries to protect the company from labor and labor tries to protect themselves from management, nothing gets accomplished. In today’s best companies, everyone walks to the same drummer.
You cannot successfully run a top-quality, customer-driven company by only focusing on dollars, equipment and technology. The first priority must always be the commitment and initiative of all employees who work for the company. Without that, you cannot survive.
Frank Lorenzo has failed to get that commitment from his people. In my professional opinion, that means he has failed as a business executive and leader. Other airlines such as Delta and American remain profitable even with higher labor rates because of their employees’ commitment.
Put aside the past. Maybe you were pro-business and anti-labor. Or you were pro-labor and anti-management. We need to bury these differences in history. For the sake of the country’s competitive future and everyone’s jobs, let us focus on partnerships and teamwork between everyone who makes the economy spin around. The Frank Lorenzos of this world have no place in that future.
The writer is president of First Concepts Development Corp., a management consulting firm.