Today I bring you the third and last installment of my interview with Republic CEO Bryan Bedford. In this piece, we spend a lot of time talking about religion. Why? Well, Bryan has really brought religion into the Republic business in a big way.
For example, the airline’s vision statement begins with “We believe that every employee, regardless of personal beliefs or world-view, has been created in the image and likeness of God.” It’s become even more of a topic with the integration of the Frontier and Midwest teams that didn’t choose to work for a religious company.
ON PARTNERING AND COMPETING WITH THE LEGACY AIRLINES
Cranky: With some of the bigger airlines, you’re flying for them and you’re competing against them. I mean, you could potentially have a codesharing agreement, then you’re flying for them on a contract and competing against them. It’s a tangled web. Does that cause any tension?
Bryan: I have to break it into the two geographies. Nobody cared about Midwest. The fact that Northwest had an equity stake in Midwest and we codeshared with them. Nobody cared about that. Obviously you know, with Frontier, United was obviously concerned about it. You know, people prefer less competition and not more, but there really wasn’t in our minds, there wasn’t going to be a strategy where Frontier was going to liquidate.
They were making money. Companies that make money in bankruptcy don’t go away. . . . Frontier wasn’t going away. I think that’s the message, whether they wanted to believe it or not. It was going to be around anyway, so hopefully better to have somebody around that’s rational at the controls than somebody who’s irrational.
Cranky: Although, they could have gone away if Southwest bought them. Then there would have been two airlines in Denver.
Bryan: Southwest was free to make an offer and compete, but at the end of the day, they didn’t lose because of insufficient consideration, they had labor issues. I guess in fairness they didn’t lose, they withdrew.
ON RELIGION AND BUSINESS
Cranky: I know you’re busy so just one last question. From a culture perspective, you said morale is high right now, people are pretty excited, you have a single brand. How has the integration been from the perspective of a Frontier employee or Midwest employee? I know you have a very strong culture here in Indianapolis and I know that you’re very religious. Have you seen any tension between Frontier people coming into this and saying “well what’s going on here. What are we getting involved in?”
Bryan: If there is tension out there, it’s pretty low and people are being civil. The Republic vision statement clearly addresses our feelings that we’re all created in the image of god. It calls us to a higher standard of treating people with respect and dignity. In my mind, it calls us to treat people fairly according to the work that they do. It wasn’t to convert people or proselytize. . . . There’s something more here than just a job. We have people of different faiths, different backgrounds, different ethnic cultures. Most airlines are melting posts. It’s just a recognition of who we are and as long as we work together, we’re going to be successful . . . .
Now, we’re not hiding our faith either. We take positions on issues. Abortion was an issue that we took a position on several years ago. It was very controversial, both internally and externally. But again, it’s down to, whether we believe in the sanctity of life or not. It’s not that we were saying that if you get an abortion, you’re fired. That wasn’t the issue. This is a big meaty issue in our culture and our society and people should understand what we think. And oh by the way, if you are in the position of having an unwanted pregnancy, let us know and we can help. And we had employees that did and we did, we arranged a couple of adoptions.
From a Republic perspective, it’s been such a large part of our culture. People who are looking at joining a company and see this either are turned off and don’t apply or they’re turned on and they come here. It’s our culture. Now you’re being bought as Midwest or Frontier and you’re being brought into this culture and clearly there were some folks that were very offended by that. A very, very small number of folks. Look, it’s America. Most of us have a Judeo-Christian world view, so I think we’re more likely to be aligned on this. That was certainly the case with Frontier and Midwest. Now the media talked about is it right or is it wrong? Should CEOs do this, should CEOs do that? It was very controversial according to the press, but that was good too. You know. I mean, at the end of the day, getting people talking about it is healthy.
Cranky: Well, there’s no reason you can’t do it. It’s a company that you can set it up however you want to set up. This isn’t the government.
Bryan: It is true, there’s no law against it. We certainly don’t have a box that you check on your application: “I believe, I don’t believe.” The only qualification to work here is “do good work.” You can believe in the tooth fairy.
Cranky: Wait, that’s not real?
Bryan: It is to my kids
Cranky: I think it’s perfectly fine. People can choose who to fly, who to work for, what they want to do. I just think about it from the perspective of someone who comes in from a high culture company like Frontier, has a really strong good positive culture, not to say that this isn’t positive, and coming into something else that’s a potentially different feel for someone. And removed as well since you’re in Indiana and they’re in Denver. Was there really a tough transition for people?
Bryan: I thought you were just talking from a religious aspect of the culture. Looking at culture in a much more broad sense of the word, prior to the brand announcement being made, there was tension between all cultures. I mean, for the Republic side, “how is owning Midwest and Frontier going to help me in my daily work?” Midwest people I think understood that the company would be gone had we not purchased it, but still trying to figure out, “who are we and what do we do?”
Same for Frontier. “We survived bankruptcy and we survived being taken over by Southwest. What does it mean now?” And so there’s a lot of post-transaction reflection that all three employment groups were doing and it has been a tough transition.
Making the brand announcement has been like a tonic. People can finally say that we know who we’re trying to be. You can make a decision on whether you like it or you don’t like it. If you say, “well, I don’t like the brand proposition with no first class seating.” Ok, well, act accordingly. We hope you stay, but if you don’t, god bless you. And the majority will stay because they love the industry, they love working for Frontier.
ON LABOR INTEGRATION
Bryan: We also have labor integration issues. It’s interesting that non-represented classes of employees, we were able to hire mediators arbitrators to sit down with both sides and within 90 days we’re integrated and everything is cool. People are now able to transfer around within the larger network and it’s working out pretty well. In cases where we have represented workers in different unions, it’s just a lot more conflict. It’s the classic US Airways east-west stuff.
Cranky: Hopefully it’s not to that extent.
Bryan: Well, it’s not. Look, our world view is if you don’t want to integrate the seniority lists, don’t integrate the seniority lists. We’re ok with that. We’re not merging the companies in the classic sense. We’re not merging Frontier into Republic. Yeah, we own it, but it’s the Airbus operator. It’s always going to be the Airbus operator and a CS300 operator, but it’s going to be a separate certificate. So we don’t care.
If merging the senoirity list is creating tension, then don’t do it. So there are answers. We’ll treat everybody the same. I think the whole seniority integration is just a red herring. It’s more union vs. union as opposed to employee vs. employee. We’re all going to sink or swim together. A lot of our Republic capacity is now in the brand operation, so the brand operation better work.
Cranky: I think I’ve probably kept you longer than you had anyway, so thank you.
Bryan: It was good meeting you.