Leadership in Aviation
Robert L. Crandall
American Airlines was under Robert Crandall’s leadership from 1980, when he was named president and later chairman, until he retired in 1998. He possesses characteristics like intelligence, character, ability, and desire, all of which is needed to get things accomplished through people. American Airlines was transformed from a small, domestic carrier to one of the world’s leading airlines with the largest jet fleet worldwide. American led the airline industry in the 1990’s in revenues and operating income, and its parent company, AMR Corporation, was one of the top Fortune 500 companies under Crandall’s reign.
Raised in Rhode Island, Robert Lloyd Crandall graduated from his state’s university and the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton Business School. He worked as a regional credit supervisor for Eastman Kodak and later, headed the computer programming division at Hallmark Cards. In 1966, he joined TWA (TransWorld Airlines) as assistant treasurer. He briefly left the airline industry in 1972 to become senior financial officer at Bloomingdale’s Department Stores, but returned the next year when American made him its senior Vice President of Finance (Robert L. Crandall: Official Biography). From there, Mr. Crandall advanced to president.
During his 18-year tenure as head of American Airlines, Robert Crandall and his self-empowered team formulated many of the innovations that helped to revolutionize the airline industry after deregulation, when many competitors went bankrupt. American was the first to recognize the value of filling empty seats with discounted tickets now known as “Super Saver Fares.” These tickets offered deep discounts for advance-purchase tickets and outsold cheap charter competition. He was also quick to see the importance of restructuring and building a route system around central hub airports to which many airlines still use today.
To keep American Airlines on top of the industry, one of Crandall’s visions was to accelerate the company’s efforts into the rich overseas markets. By tapping into voids created by Pan Am, Eastern Air, Braniff Int’l and TWA, Mr. Crandall’s ambition acquired promising overseas routes to Asia and Europe, and Latin America.
Perhaps Robert Crandall’s greatest contribution to the success of American Airlines was his vision in propelling the SABRE Group from an internal division of the company to one of the world’s largest, privately owned computer networks. Conceived in 1959, the Semi-Automatic Business Research Environment served as an internal link between American’s offices and ticket counters to help track reservations. When talks aimed at developing an industry-wide reservation system, broken down between travel agents and major carriers in the mid-1970’s, Crandall successfully marketed his airline’s computer system throughout the world. “Today, more than 85,500 SABRE terminals are in use at travel agencies in forty-seven countries, providing schedules and fares for 665 airlines and information on prices and availability for more than 20,000 hotels and 52 rental car companies” (American Airlines History). Crandall is also credited with the development of the first airline industry frequent flyer program, AAdvantage. With these many innovations and aspirations, Mr. Crandall transferred his vital skills, abilities, and work-related knowledge within the aviation industry. Thus, his heavy influence possesses the power of an expert. He expressed strong relationships to performance and satisfaction, which lead people to trust his new concepts.
In April 1997, Robert Crandall received the Horatio Alger Award, which honors individuals who have achieved success despite challenging life circumstances. Many national and trade publications have honored Mr. Crandall for his achievements and executive leadership including Business Week, Industry Week, Aviation Week & Space Technology, Financial World, and Air Transport World (Solman).The Wall Street Journal called Robert Crandall “the man who changed the way the world flies.”
Robert Crandall retired from American Airlines in 1998. Among other pursuits, he currently sits on the board of Anixter International and the board of the Chancellor Media radio broadcasting company to help develop internet strategies. Despite being seventy years old, he is also a director with American Express Company, Celestica Inc., the Halliburton Company in Dallas, MediaOne Group, the National Park Foundation, the World Travel and Tourism Council, and the Air Transport Association (Robert L. Crandall: Official Biography). Many aviation enthusiasts still look to Crandall as a consultant and expert figure.
“American Airlines History” AMR Corporation. Revised April 2004. 18 May 2005.
“Robert L. Crandall: Official Biography.” Air TV.18 May 2005. http://www.airtv.net/robert_crandall_official.html
Solman, Paul. “Something Special in the Air.” Online NewsHour, 20 May 1998. Public Broadcasting Service. 18 May 19, 2005. http://www.pbs.org/newshour/bb/transportation/jan-june98/crandall_5-20.html