Powered by People: Delta Air Lines’ CEO Reveals What Fuels its Success

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It's no surprise that air travel, though efficient and essential, can be stressful. The security lines, the crying children, perhaps even a kick or two on the back of your seat. Delta Air Lines CEO Ed Bastian gets it.

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"From the outside, I suspect the airline business looks stressful and challenging, which it can be," says Bastian, an 18-year Delta veteran. "But we also have a lot of opportunities to have fun and enjoy time with our families, friends, colleagues, and customers. We really are a family and that's why most Delta people enjoy coming to work every day."

Fun and a sense of family are at the core of Delta's win of Glassdoor's 10th annual Employees' Choice Awards, honoring the Best Places to Work in 2018. As the #1 airline (17th overall), Delta employees have provided anonymous feedback by completing a company review about their job, work environment, and employer over the past year. 

"Excellent career opportunities, with ability to move through the ranks and learn new skills," said one employee of the three-time Best Places to Work winner. Another added, "great travel benefits." For other employees, it's all about the sense of ownership over one's work. "Flexible hours -- no cap on the number of hours you are allowed to pick up during a month, so you can tailor your paycheck to your needs."

We caught up with Delta's CEO to ask him about what makes the aviation giant a Best Place to Work. In a word: the people. To serve nearly 180 million customers each year, Bastian insists that the people he works alongside every day are the secret to Delta's success. Here, he opens up about what it takes to get hired at Delta, how to succeed and what it really means to embody Delta's motto "Keep Climbing." 

Glassdoor: What does it mean to you to be a Best Place to Work, according to your own employees?

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Ed Bastian: It is a tremendous honor. I have said many times that Delta's competitive advantage comes from our people and our employee-driven culture, and our ability to work as a team. Thanks to our people, Delta wins a lot of awards, but this is probably the one that makes me the most proud.

Glassdoor: How would you describe your company culture? How do you instill this in employees so they believe in it and live it day in and day out?

Bastian: Delta's culture is very much one of shared values of honesty, integrity, respect, perseverance and servant leadership. It isn't new -- it goes all the way back to our first CEO, C.E. Woolman, who instilled these values in the company nearly 90 years ago. One of my favorite quotes of his is, "No one individual can create an airline. An airline is a team. It must be a friendly, courteous, cooperative and efficient team, bound as closely as a devoted family."

We have a variety of tools to share these values among our people, including a booklet called "Rules of the Road," which every new employee receives. This document also dates back to Woolman, by the way! But most importantly, we work hard to hire people who already are steeped in these values so we know they will fit in with our culture on their very first day.

Glassdoor: What are some of the things that you think make your company an attractive place to work?

Bastian: We have great compensation and benefits, and we offer flight benefits which Delta people enjoy very much. But that's not the reason people stay at Delta for decades. I think the reason people love working here and have so much passion for what we do is that our mission is a very noble one. We make the world a smaller place and bring people together. We have the opportunity to make a real difference in the lives of our customers, every day. That's the kind of feeling most companies just can't offer.

Glassdoor: What would people be surprised to know about working here?

Bastian: How much fun we have. From the outside, I suspect the airline business looks stressful and challenging, which it can be, but we also have a lot of opportunities to have fun and enjoy time with our families, friends, colleagues and customers. We really are a family, and that's why most Delta people enjoy coming to work every day.

Glassdoor: What do you look for in a quality job candidate?

Bastian: Jobs at Delta are enormously competitive, which is a good situation for us. For example, last year, we had 150,000 applicants for 1,200 openings for flight attendants. So we look for the best of the best -- those who have strong skills and experience but also those who we know will be a good fit for Delta. If someone is brilliant at their job but doesn't fit our values or culture, they won't be successful here.

Glassdoor: What one piece of advice would you offer to other companies that want to be a Best Place to Work for employees? What is the secret of your success?

Bastian: Put your people at the foundation of what you do. We call it the "virtuous circle" – when you take care of your employees, they will take great care of your customers, who then reward you with their business and loyalty. Every major business decision we make at Delta is based on that philosophy, and it has been very successful for us.

This article originally appeared on Glassdoor.com.

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