JetBlue Chairman Joel Peterson’s coronavirus quarantine routine includes an all-virtual book tour

‘There probably is not a worse time to launch a book’

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JetBlue Airways Chairman Joel Peterson does not recommend releasing a book during a global pandemic.

“There probably is not a worse time to launch a book,” he told FOX Business.

Peterson’s newest book, “Entrepreneurial Leadership: The Art of Launching New Ventures, Inspiring Others, and Running Stuff” was released on April 21, right in the middle of the coronavirus crisis.

“We decided to go ahead,” Peterson said, adding later: “We just thought there's so much momentum that we probably shouldn't change it.”

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Unlike a typical book tour, this one is all virtual -- on podcasts and Zoom interviews -- and he hasn’t been able to connect with audiences in the same way he has on past in-person book tours.

“What I like when I'm speaking to an audience is to connect with them, to ask questions to have them raise their hand, to interrupt me and make it really a very organic, dynamic process,” he said. “And you just can't do that on the screen the same way.”

Early on, Peterson doubted whether his book was something that people would be thinking about during the coronavirus, but he eventually realized that his book had a much wider scope now more than ever.

JetBlue Airways Chairman Joel Peterson is pictured in 2010. (Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

“The more I've thought about it, the more I thought, you know what? Everybody's going to have to be an entrepreneurial leader,” he said. “Even people in large companies, they can no longer be presiders. They're going to have to think about, you know, how do we reimagine what it is we do? How do we re-imagine our distribution? Our connection with our -- what's our covenant with our customers, with our communities? And how do we fulfill that?”

“I think it's probably more relevant than I thought, but still, it's a terrible time to release a book,” he added.

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Peterson is also the founder of private equity firm Peterson Partners and a Stanford business professor. He said he has been “in quarantine” for about seven weeks -- though the restrictions in his home state of Utah haven’t been as severe as some other states’ rules.

Even though Peterson’s office is closed and everyone else is at home, he still goes in every morning at 5:00 a.m. and works until about 3:00 p.m., he said.

And in between his work, Peterson said he takes a nap, calls his kids and checks in with his friends to make sure they’re alright.

“I've made a practice of getting in touch with all my friends and just kind of making sure they're all OK,” he said.

Peterson also sits on three boards that have been meeting almost weekly via Zoom and he teaches a class at Stanford via Zoom.

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Even though he still goes into an office, he said his routine is still significantly changed by the coronavirus. Typically, he said, he’s traveling between Utah, New York and Palo Alto.

“I’m rarely here more than two weeks at a time without a trip to either of the coasts,” he said. “And so all of that has been cut off.”

Peterson released his newest book on April 21. He is pictured in 2010. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

But the change hasn’t been horrible, he said.

“In some ways, it's actually kind of nice because I realized how frenetic life was,” Peterson said. “I mean, it was just nonstop, wall to wall every moment claimed. And travel is exhausting. And so in some ways, it's actually kind of grounding, it's helpful.”

“In other ways, you realize how difficult it is to communicate completely with people,” he added.

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One of the toughest challenges, Peterson said, has been facing the same issues as the rest of the airline industry.

“It's just incredible disruption,” he said. “Parking planes, cutting back routes.”

Thankfully JetBlue hasn’t had to furlough any of its employees, but that’s only because of the government assistance the airline received, he said.

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“Working through all of that and organizing it and communicating effectively and still having meetings with the management team and with the board ... it's been challenging,” Peterson said.

“You have 20, 25 people on the line [during board meetings], and we want them all to participate,” Peterson added. “So our general counsel typically runs this part of the meeting and he'll cold call everybody. He'll just go through the whole board, you know, ask them for any questions or comments. So we keep everybody engaged and participating. But it's not as easy.”

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Peterson has had similar challenges in his online classroom -- but he said he’s learned how to utilize some of the tools on Zoom including breakout rooms, the poll feature and the whiteboard feature.

“It has been tricky to learn how to teach over Zoom,” he said. “I have 49 students that appear on a screen as little postage-stamp-size visages, almost silhouettes, and I've had to learn when you tell a joke there's no response. You can't read the audience, you can't walk up to their desk … so that’s been challenging.”

“I think I'm still kind of clunky, but I'm still getting a little bit better,” he added.

Unfortunately, even if he does master the art of teaching online, virtual classes will “never be as good,” he said.

“There's nothing quite like the personal contact,” he said. “Now, I have been in contact with a number of my students all over the world ... it's amazing.

“So it's been quite rich that way,” he added.