Friday, November 4, 2011

10 Management Tips from US Airways' Hub

by Ted Reed - Originally found on TheStreet

In a down economy, the US Airways(LCC_) hub in Charlotte has been an oasis of growth as well as a model of efficiency. For that, many credit a station manager who knows how to get the most from her employees.

Terri Pope, Charlotte station manager since 2000 and US Airways vice president for airport customer service, "knows how to get people to buy in," said Cinde Monsam, senior manager for station administration and one of Pope's four direct reports.

"What I learned from her and what she does better than anyone else is that she reads the needs of people, not just her employees but also her managers," said Monsam. "She knows when to push for an idea and when to back off, because she listens to people's voices. The loyalty she inspires by doing that is incredible."

Terri Pope
Terri Pope

Recent growth has pushed US Airways' Charlotte departures to about 640 from about 400 in 2004, making Charlotte/Douglas the country's 11th biggest airport as well as the carrier's most profitable hub. US Airways employs 6,500 in Charlotte: Pope directly oversees 2,000 who work in the airport. Additionally, as the airline's highest ranking Charlotte official, she is the face of US Airways in Charlotte.

At a recent meeting, where US Airways Charlotte managers reviewed their 2010 performance, Pope concluded by saying that that a few years ago, she was not so proud of that role. The carrier underwent two bankruptcies and often ranked badly in on-time performance and other operational metrics. "We were looked upon perhaps not as highly as we should have been," Pope said.

But now, "When I walk into chamber meetings or corporate headquarters or any meeting, I just glow when someone asks me what I do," she said. And quickly, she credited her staff. "I can't tell you how much I respect you, for what you bring to this wonderful hub of ours." That's one insight into what makes Terri Pope a unique leader: she puts employees first. Here are her ten guidelines:

1. Listen. "The biggest thing is that you can be honest with her, without feeling that she will be mad, even when she disagrees," said Mike Bryant, director of operations and planning. "She has her vision, she lays it out. I might not agree, but she makes me feel comfortable enough to say it.

Said Pope: "I don't think there's an intimidating bone in my body. Why would you need to intimidate anyone to get what you want?" Pope has fired dozens of people, she acknowledges, for violations including stealing, lack of attendance and disciplinary failings. Each one, she said, "is a failure on my part."

2. Don't Micro-Manage."She has expectations, but she doesn't tell you how to get there," Bryant said. "As long as you meet the goal, you don't have to go Terri's way." As an example, Bryant has had to allocate gate usage in a way that favors gates US Airways leases long-term over gates controlled by the airport, which cost more to use.

Pope "allows us to run our departments like we are running our own businesses," said Rich Ashlin, director of customer service. "She stands at a distance, but she is there as a resource. Said Pope: "It's up to them to sell their ideas to me. If they do that successfully, we go with it."

3. Remember, You Run Into Everybody Again. James McDonald, director of ramp operations, interviewed with Pope four times for four jobs before she finally offered him one. The first time was in West Palm Beach, the second at Washington National, the last two in Charlotte. "Terri and I go back a long way," he said. At each interview, "She was cordial and nice and made me feel comfortable," he said. After the DCA interview, Pope called to explain that he needed more experience. "She made it personal," he said. "She made it seem like it mattered. She is all about results and performance, but she does it with calm, with guidance and support."

4. Take Pleasure in Employees' Achievements. "I'm 53," Pope said. "I'm the happiest I've ever been in my life. I think it's because, when you first start out, and for many years, you think it's about you. As you get older and wiser, you realize it's not about you at all. It's about how you can help people achieve their goals. "I've got so many leaders here -- I hope I've had a little to do with them achieving their goals. I have extremely high expectations and I'm hard to please, but I'm also very forgiving."

5. Sense of Humor. On Sept. 27, 2005, the day US Airways and America West completed their merger, Rich Ashlin flew from Phoenix to Charlotte to start work as director of customer service. "I got off the plane and there was a cavalcade of baggage carts through the airport," she said. "Terri was in one of them, dressed as Queen Charlotte. It was hysterical."

6. Make Each Person Feel Special. Charlotte spokeswoman Michelle Mohr recalls the day in 2007 when she began work in Charlotte after moving from Phoenix. She barely knew a soul and did not know what to expect. When she arrived at work, Pope had put a vase full of flowers on her desk. "It was one of the nicest, warmest things ever," Mohr said. "It was so unexpected." Said Pope: "I know what it is to be new. "

7. Admit Your Mistakes. In April 2010 US Airways decided to suspend Charlotte-Honolulu service just four months after it began. "I hoped it was going to work," Pope said. "We had an extra aircraft, a 767 - why not utilize it? Besides, if we're successful, it benefits a lot of people. Heart-wise, I wanted to do it, even though brain-wise, I didn't know. So we gave it a shot. But if something is not working, we are not afraid to make a change."

8. Embrace Technology. Airports have benefited immensely and visibly from technology improvements. Since November 2008, US Airways has scanned bags as they are loaded onto planes and as they come off, so the carrier always knows where the bags are. "Before, we made an educated guess," Pope said. US Airways has also redesigned airport kiosks to have more functions and be easier to use, and it has developed, gate readers enabling a single person to board an entire aircraft. "We used to be a manual airline," Pope said. "Now, we have so many great technologies."

9. Learn From Employees. As West Palm Beach station manager in the 1990s, Pope was intimidated by an older man who was a lead ramp agent. "He thought he knew everything, he was crotchety, and he challenged me every step of the way," she said. "He though females had no right to be in this business, much less young females -- I was 35. We had heated discussions. But many times, he was right. I was inexperienced." Today, she said, the now-retired employee sends a Christmas card each year.

10. Be Approachable. "You have to be someone employees can talk to," Pope said. "That's why (CEO Doug Parker) is successful. If employees can't talk to you, then you don't know what's going on." Parker meets regularly with employees, including half a dozen times a year in Charlotte.

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