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Barry Salzberg

Barry Salzberg

Barry Salzberg is CEO of Deloitte, LLP. He also is a member of Deloitte’s U.S. Board of Directors, the Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu Global Executive Committee, and the DTT Global Board of Directors.

If Wall Street were an airline

Last January, when USAir Flight 1549 landed on the Hudson with Captain Sullenberger at the controls, some of Wall Street's most vaunted institutions had collapsed, the bailout was in full swing, and trust in business was at all time lows. Particularly disturbing to me was public's damaged confidence in business leadership. An Edelman survey of leadership from that period reported that just 17 percent of respondents said they trusted what they heard from business leaders--one in five. Would you fly if you had such low confidence in the skills and judgments of commercial pilots?

Enter Captain Sullenberger on that snowy January day. What were the odds that the captain of that plane―turned into a glider when its engines were disabled―would be a former military aviator with more than 40 years experience, an expert on aviation safety and an experienced glider pilot?

It wasn't just Captain Sullenberger who resonated with the world, it was also the crew and their flawless behavior. And what really sticks with me from that day is that, as the plane was floating in the Hudson, Captain Sullenberger went back through, not once but twice to make sure every passenger was off.

Now imagine if business had that kind of can-do, can't-fail attitude toward the safety, well-being and prosperity of its customers, investors and shareholders? Imagine, for that matter, if business in general had a safety record like that of the air transport industry, where, in 10 years from 1998, the accident rate was cut almost in half?

Cool under pressure, 100-percent accountable, and always putting the crew and passengers first, Captain Sullenberger exhibited the kind of can-do, can't-fail leadership that business needs as we re-build it into a trustworthy, airworthy enterprise. If the public is going to "fly" us, then it seems to me that we should expect the captains of industry to think more like airline captains, professionally and morally responsible for every passenger in every seat.

By Barry Salzberg

 |  October 20, 2009; 11:33 AM ET
Category:  Leadership personalities Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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From my perspective there are competiting forces here. 1) Everybody likes a larger than life hero. 2) News media likes to destroy heros - I bet Capt Sully steppped on his cat's tail once and he did not register it with the SPCA. He must be a bad guy. FOX has the story at 6.

To counter that, though, 3) we promote (albeit over compensate) many of our flashy business figures, and our national greed drives them to let us down. Then, 4) our courts or oversight committees are frequently 'big boys' too, and even if the white collar criminal is prosecuted, the sentence does not fit the crime - the bad guys remain millionaires when they check out of prison. Compare the Wall Street/Banker crook that destroyed the lives of thousands of investors with the poor ghetto kid that sold a few ounces of drugs. Who did the most harm to society?

Posted by: DavidCurrier1 | October 20, 2009 12:41 PM
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