Republic CEO Bryan Bedford on Religion and the Business (Across the Aisle)

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.

So, let’s get on it with. (Click for Part 1, Part 2)

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ON PARTNERING AND COMPETING WITH THE LEGACY AIRLINES

Cranky: WithAcross the Aisle from Republic Airways 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.

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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.

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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.

40 Responses to Republic CEO Bryan Bedford on Religion and the Business (Across the Aisle)

  1. Nimitz says:

    awesome. good stuff.

  2. Graham says:

    Brett,

    This series has been really fascinating. Good interview.

  3. ttjoseph says:

    A couple years ago I had a long chat with a Shuttle America FA while stuck on the tarmac. Really nice lady, and one of the things she said was that Republic was a “good Christian company”. Seemed like a strange thing to say, but now I understand. And from a business perspective it’s a good idea – if employees feel they share core values with their employer, it can only help labor relations.

  4. I had a big comment to post and then decided against it. I didn’t want to turn Bretts blog site into a battle ground for what I was going to express.

    I will just say that after reading part 3 of the interview, I will not support Repbulic/Frontier in any way.

    • AndrewBW says:

      I don’t know if I can bite my tongue as well as you…

      As a Colorado resident, it’s hard for me to ignore Frontier as an option: United is usually non-competitive on price, and I simply don’t like Southwest’s model and won’t do business with them if I don’t have to. But I agree with you Bryan’s vocal religiousness makes me wildly uncomfortable. There was a major piece about this aspect of his leadership in the Denver Post shortly after the buyout and the comment trail after the article was predictably divisive.

      CEOs can be whatever religion they wish, and express it as freely as they want. But I don’t think religious policy or tenants have any place in corporate charters or within the structure of the corporation. It’s inappropriate and unfathomably archaic and smacks of misplaced priorities: Fly planes safely, make money. Period. If that isn’t your concern 24/7, you’re doing it wrong.

      I won’t say I’ll stop using Frontier (after all, there aren’t giant crosses painted on the side of Frontier airplanes… yet ;) ) but Bryan’s insistence on integrating religious beliefs and corporate operations will cause me to give United a second chance at least some of the time as I make future bookings.

      • James says:

        As another Colorado resident I second your sentiments, and had NO idea about this background. I must have missed the DP article.

        The statement may just be a platitude, (an incorrect one at that: Believe it or not you can treat people with respect and dignity WITHOUT a religious background- perhaps even easier done,) but beyond the statement, when a huge company has religious leanings, (light or heavy,) they can have a way of having influence in local and state politics – and affect internal policies as well. (partnership benefits, or the abortion mention.)

        Their activity in my community – who they back and support, is now on my radar and I’ll definitely be paying attention.

        Maybe they should partner with Chick-Fil-A for their buy on board food – another company known for spilling their personal beliefs down from the top through company and into the public…

      • Zach says:

        Yeah, I have mixed feelings. I agree with Cranky in the sense that companies are not governments and can/should run on whatever principles those making the decisions value. Although I certainly don’t share Bryan’s particular faith (or his fervor), I tend to think that, if you’re going use some sort of ethical principle as a cornerstone for your operation, religious principles tend to be positive ones.

        That being said, I would certainly think twice before applying to work at Frontier/Republic. In fact, I almost certainly would not apply for a position there. You have to wonder, while Bryan claims that the faith-based initiatives are optional and do not enter into hiring process, one has to wonder whether it’s even possible for a company whose credo is a religious one to make unbiased decisions in that regard. What if something on a candidate’s resume strikes the interviewer as somehow anti-Christian (perhaps the candidate worked for a different religious organization or has been involved in Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, or other charities), or something in a candidate’s background leads the hiring manager to similar assumptions? Will that candidate be passed over for a similarly qualified one who exhibits a clearly “Christian” lifestyle?

        What if a current employee decides to have an abortion or brings a same-sex partner to the company picnic? Will that person then be constantly gently, or not-so-gently, reminded of the company’s Christian values?

        I have never flown Frontier, and while I would not hesitate to do so if the price was right, I certainly will not be submitting a job application to them should I ever find myself unemployed.

      • CF says:

        I think it’s an interesting discussion for sure. Personally, a company with a religious stance is not something that appeals to me, but I absolutely believe in their right to run the company that way if they so choose. It’s up to them. If I were someone with a strong Christian belief, this would probably be attractive. If not, then it would turn me off.

        What I’m not clear on is how much of the Republic culture has rubbed off on the Frontier culture or how much it will. I know someone at Frontier who is Jewish who really hasn’t expressed any big concern about this. But they seem to be somewhat removed from this so far. If you start seeing more mixing between employees of the different companies, maybe things will change. I really don’t know.

        BTW, how do you feel about Alaska? They may not be a religious company in the same way, but you will get a bible verse in your first class meal.

  5. Dan says:

    Brett, is this a correct quote? I always thought people preferred more competition, not les.

    “You know, people prefer less competition and not more,”

    • AndrewBW says:

      Well, *people* may… but think about it from the airline perspective, especially in a market like Denver: As Bryan went on to say, I’m sure United would’ve have preferred in the end for Southwest to win the bid for Frontier and liquidated it, so they only had them as a primary competitor, instead of SW and Frontier.

      Or as a completely different example, Delta probably loved picking up NWA’s hub in Minneapolis, if only because they control it so completely. No other airline has anything but a token presence there, and it’s a large market with a lot of originating traffic and no other major airport for hundreds of miles.

    • CF says:

      Yeah, sorry. Replace “people” with “airlines” and it’ll make more sense. I just printed this word for word and should have clarified that.

    • Ron says:

      “People” does not always mean customers. Airlines are run by people too.

  6. JayB says:

    We’re all what we are, if we can figure out what we are, at least before we tell everyone else what they should be, and do.

    I believe Mr. Bedford is a Catholic, which pretty much puts him on the wrong side of Christianity on my side of the family…of course, some of my best friends are…! His company’s name is “Republic.” May I assume he leans right? Not saying anything’s wrong with that, but…!

    I’m still looking for that airline, come to think of it, any company whose management and operating ethics are what I consider perfect. Probably going to be looking for a long, long time!

  7. David M says:

    I’m not religious, but I have noticed that companies that tend towards a religious corporate culture do seem to put out a pretty decent product. In the airline industry, both Republic (having flown on US/Republic and UA/Shuttle America flights) and Alaska (having flown both AS and Horizon) are pretty well respected. In the fast food industry, both In-n-Out and Chick-fil-a are good as well — In-n-Out even got a positive mention in Fast Food Nation. If I had to guess, I would think that the religious convictions put an emphasis on treating other people right that flows from the top down, and treating employees well seems to flow through to employees treating customers well. Of course, religion isn’t necessary, as we see at Southwest.

    I have no qualms about flying a Republic Air Holdings or Alaska Air Group carrier on the basis of their religious corporate culture, just as I have no issues with eating at In-n-Out or Chick-fil-a. Now, if their flight attendants started reading prayer services in flight or they made it so Frontier’s IFE only had religious programming, that would be different.

    • CF says:

      Regarding In ‘n Out, the religious culture had nothing to do with the product. The founders, Harry and Esther Snyder (no relation), did not really bring religion into the business as they were building it. It was their son who added religion when he took over and started printing bible verses on wrappers and cups. By then, the culture and quality had already been well-established. (Incidentally, that son was one who died in the corporate jet that crashed on approach to Orange County back in the 90′s.)

  8. Bill from DC says:

    who cares what the company’s ethical philosophy is? comments above simply prove the notion that intolerance and bigotry is acceptable in this country if it is directed toward the “right” places. so the guy’s pro-life and not ashamed of it? BFD. if that doesn’t fit into your narrow interpretation of what is publicly acceptable, don’t fly his airline but realize you’re hurting his employees and their families a lot more than you are hurting him.

    imagine the hysteria if posters instead declared here that they didn’t want to fly an airline because it had a Jewish CEO who was particularly vocal about the pro-Israeli movement?

    “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.”

    what is so offensive about that anyway? I’m devoutly agnostic and pro-choice yet I find that statement something that should be lauded, not derided.

    • Zach says:

      Agreed. I think the environment that he is fostering is probably overwhelmingly positive, and I don’t care whatsoever what his politics are. I also wouldn’t boycott his airline or avoid it because his business operation is run based on a religious principle (which, in turn, is based on a positive value system). My only hesitation would be toward working there, since I subscribe to a non-Christian faith and might feel uncomfortable in a work environment where I might be expected to follow a belief system that is not a part of my identity.

  9. SAN Greg says:

    Nice job on this – props to you!

  10. Sanjeev M says:

    It seems to be working for the employee side relationships, so I wouldn’t stop them. Maybe from the east coast point of view (or west), we don’t understand the mentality. It is true, majority is Christian in the Midwest. If employees don’t like it, they will say so vocally.

    It’s mainly a code of ethics, which Cranky has proven is important.

    I am Hindu, and since crosses are not painted and there are no altars on Frontier aircraft, from a consumer point of view (even after seeing this interview) I don’t mind. Definitely from an outsider perspective, the general public would not differentiate.

  11. Mjnco says:

    I don’t believe that the CEO being a Christian (or Catholic) has nothing to do with how Republic/Frontier operates their business. I have friends who work for Frontier that have same-sex partners and from talking to them, they have no problems working for the company. I don’t believe they (Republic/Frontier) will mandate a prayer session before takeoff, or offer only Kosher food/snacks or not serve pork products. They are a good company. If you want to fly on an airline that does not serve alcohol, pork and have an Islamic prayer before takeoff, fly on Saudi Arabian Airlines! No slam on Islam or Saudi Arabian Airlines at all intended, because they do provide good international service! (I was stationed in Saudi Arabia with the U.S. Army and flew SV domestically and to/from the USA)

  12. chris says:

    I really have no doubt that bedford is paying you for this obvious commercial

    • AndrewBW says:

      So were you fired from Republic, Midwest, or Frontier? And was it because you were incompetent, or just unnecessary?

    • David Z says:

      CF, if you’re going to reply to this kind of comment and you’re honest about it, just simply say, “Nope, not getting any material benefit out of this. But thanks for commenting.” ‘Nuff said. :)

      As for you, Chris…your opinion…which means nothing anyway.

      • chris says:

        You are right, my opinion does not matter, but I am sure everyone else is thinking ” I can’t wait to see what that genuis David Z has to say”

        • David Z says:

          Pardon the seemingly genius comment, although I can never claim to be one. OTOH, some are at a loss as to why you think Bedford paid CF for this interview despite his previous disclosure.

          Unless maybe you don’t believe CF at all?

      • CF says:

        I wasn’t even going to respond to this one since I addressed it last time and now it’s just like a broken record. This isn’t a commercial, it’s an interview. There was no payment of any kind.

  13. JayB says:

    To Cranky,

    Your choice of topics is always good. Along the lines of Republic’s mixing, or not mixing business and religion, perhaps you’ve had, or could get an interview with former AA CEO Bob Crandall and his take on business and religion?

    Bob had a knack for invoking God’s name related to all manner of airline issues, sometimes with fellow-airline execs, like the nice man at Braniff. Admittedly, his use of God’s name invariably included some modifers, like “#^@(&!(%,” but hey, we all express our faiths in different ways!

    • CF says:

      I would love to get an interview with Crandall for a huge variety of reasons, not just religion and biz! If anyone knows him and wants to help me set it up, please do.

  14. Pingback: Republic CEO Bryan Bedford on Fees, Competition in the Hubs, and More (Across the Aisle) - >> The Cranky Flier

  15. i was horrified by the religious stuff. i would never fly on that company’s planes. i watched him on the undercover boss program this week. couldn’t believe his blah to a staff member whose kid was killed in denver. it went along the lines that ‘bad things happen to good people’, that it’s all part of God’s mysterious plans, and that it’s no doubt all for the better … HELLO, that kids was KILLED. wow, what an oddball this bloke.

  16. I watched the CBS show ‘Undercover Boss’ that I recorded Sunday and I’m surprised Mr Bedford hasn’t ripped those animals off the planes and put up pictures of religous icons. It was more a church sermon then a show about an airline boss going undercover to do various jobs within the company.

    I found it interesting that of all the thousands of workers Frontier has, he was only profiled on the show with four who were also religious. While there is nothing wrong with believing in your faith, I find it hard to believe not one worker was your average normal disgrundled worker. Coming from an airline I can say any airline worker would have nothing but negative things to say to a possible new worker.

    The undercover story was they put a wig and glasses on him and told workers he was part of a reality show and was one of two workers trying to get a job with the company.

    At the end all four people he worked with go to Frontiers HQ and find out who ‘Richard’ really was. But he does something for each one of a personal nature that as a Frontier employee I might not be happy with. He gives one $20k to help pay for college for his kids, he pays to have one guy and his wife go on a vacation, he gives $20k to another to use in her charity work with the homeless and will walk the streets of OKC with her to help, and give the other a cruise for her and her granddaughter plus names one of the planes in memory of her son who was killed.

    Mr Bedford doesn’t seem to be a friendly man, he seems very stiff. I can understand a person in front of a TV film crew may act different, but he doesn’t seem the type that was anything other then a ridget person. He did say to the workers at the end the company over the next few years would repay the 10pct wage cut they all took. And did say he would look into some of the company work policies to see if they can be changed to better the company.

    Did you know they have 7 minutes to clean a plane during it’s turn around, and that was one of the jobs he did and was having trouble doing it. He had already said he didn’t like going on a plane and seeing it dirty, so this was an eye opener for him. So they will look into allowing more time, if better equipment is needed for the job, or hire more workers. Yeah like that would happen.

    So while he learns how his employee struggle with low wages and some work 2 or 3 jobs to make ends meet. He lives in this hugh house with his wife and 8 kids. And we had to hear how they went off birth control to have more kids, and who knows how many more.

    Sorry this was long, but if you have a chance to catch the show in a rerun, watch it. It was interesting.

    • JSC says:

      You know I work for Mr. Bedford at one of his airlines and I have for several years. I came from another airline that had no morals or ethics and for the years I worked there I felt like my job was always in question and un-appreciated.
      At my current job, I can say, we work in a warm caring environment, where our co-workers help each other out and Bryan cares about us. He is very personable and does not force his beliefs on us, but makes his opinions known. He has ever right to speak his beliefs just as we all have our rights to also. We when have issues we all know we can turn to our CEO and CFO to handle things properly, either it be a stalker, or hostile work environment.
      This company welcomes people from all walks of life and private back ground; we have benefits for same sex couples and even rehab options for those who need it. Before you start judging someone’s character on a video (that was a poor portray of Airline life) or their capability, take a step back and remember it is a bias world. And we do have more cleaners, and people do audits on the Ac, to set up cleaning. WE ALL, ALL airlines will be getting the 10%, because the other companies outside of Frontier have not got raises in a few years, due to the economy. I work surrounded by people who have worked here for decades and plan to work here until they retire. We love this place and he makes us feel appreciated, if it with company gatherings, or bagel days or just a thank you now and then.
      Bryan is a good CEO and a good man, and you would be so lucky to know him as a friend or employee.

  17. RPEMP says:

    What happened to that 10% pay raise? I am guessing you are not with either the pilot or flight attendant group. Considering FO’s now make $3600 a year less than 3 years ago due to the increase in insurance and lack of pay raise, and the fact that Bedford said that he did not expect FA’s to make a career at this company – they should seek employment at American if they plan to do the job for any length of time-, I’m not sure how you can call him a great CEO. He was given 100,000 new shares by the board whilst the labor has not received a raise since 2009. As far as being appreciated, again, you must not actually work on the line. Your retort sounds as if you work at corporate. Indeed those jobs in IND are great, bagel days and all. When your CEO publicly states that he doesn’t want pilots past 5 years because they cost too much, you have a serious morale issue at an airline. First year FA’s make ~15k salary and FO’s make ~20k. But I suppose we can pray for a living wage and see if Jesus helps approve our WIC or food stamps for another month.

    • Sommer says:

      Thank GOD someone that actually works for Bryan “Satan” Bedford finally commented with the truth! It would be fine if he actually ACTED out the beliefs he constantly professes. As far as I know, he has not followed through on even ONE of the promises he made on Undercover Boss. I guess he thought getting rid of Frontier (for a decent profit) would release him of his promises. And has no one realized that the pilots contract expired in 2007?? Pilots voted to strike but “aren’t allowed” to do so and Bryan simply doesn’t show up to mediation!?! The union abuses employees even worse because they increased dues to guarantee a contract but now they have simply stopped negotiation until the end of 2014 because they “can’t come to an agreement”. It sounds like a form of slavery since Bryan prevents the major airlines from hiring his pilots because he has contracts with almost all of them. But I can understand why he doesn’t want pilots to stay past 5 years… he doesn’t want anyone left that he would have to give back pay!! Seriously, I admire Jimmy Swaggert and Jim Baker more than this snake!

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