Oscar Munoz, the CEO of United Airlines, and the only American-born Hispanic CEO of a major corporation, announced his retirement last month. He will step down as CEO in May and will take the position of board chairman. United is the largest U.S.-based airline and the 76th largest U.S. corporation according to Fortune Magazine. Under his leadership, United stock has more than doubled and has survived a couple of major public relations nightmares, including the infamous Dr. David Dao event in 2017. Oscar was widely criticized during that incident for essentially coming to the defense of his employees.
I got to know Oscar when we both served on the LDC board, and by his participation at L’ATTITUDE. This past year at L’ATTITUDE, Oscar and Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff committed to investing $1M each into the L’ATTITUDE venture fund while they were speaking onstage. Amazing! Most people don’t know that shortly after being named as CEO, Oscar suffered a major heart attack and received a heart transplant. Most people thought it would force him to step down, but with the support of his board he came back to serve as CEO for five years. Last basketball season, my son’s team at Colorado College was stuck in Dallas after their flight was cancelled due to bad weather on the East Coast. They were flying United so I sent an email to Oscar. While dealing with over 200 flight cancelations, Oscar responded to my email and forwarded a thread where I could see he was checking with staff in Dallas to see what they could do to help my son’s team. Aaron’s team made it home that night and the boys were in class the following morning.
It is sad that we don’t have more Latino CEOs leading major corporations in America. So what does it take to make it to the top of a major corporation? In my view, it comes down to intelligence, decisiveness, charisma and connections. Latinos have plenty of the top three but not enough of the latter. Connections to power is one of the issues we are trying to solve at L’ATTITUDE.
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I remember with NAR, the National Association of REALTORS®, invited me to participate on a panel session on diversity at their national convention back in 2002. I had never been to an NAR convention, but had heard that they were huge with 20,000+ attendees.