Friday, June 21, 2024

‘Turnaround Time’ weaves warm tale of a man, his life, and his job

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BOOK REVIEW

"Turnaround Time: Uniting an Airline and its Employees in the Friendly Skies" by Oscar Munoz with Brian DeSplinter.

c.2023, Harper Business

$32.00; 220 pages

Seat backs up, tray tables in locked position.

You know the drill: wrestle your roll-on, carry-on, a jacket, phone and a book, fast-walk like an Olympian down a hallway, and pass through a hobbit-sized door. Heave one bag up and one down before plopping yourself into a minuscule seat, ready to go. In "Turnaround Time" by Oscar Munoz (with Brian DeSplinter), you'll see behind the departure gate for that flight you're taking.

If you didn't know the whole story, you'd think that 37 was Oscar Munoz's cosmic number. Thirty-seven days after becoming CEO of United Airlines, he'd finished up a run near his Chicago home when he began to feel ill. He called 911 when he realized he was having a heart attack. Thirty-seven minutes later, he was connected to life support.

In America, he says, someone dies of cardiac arrest every 37 seconds.

Prior to his health scare, Munoz had been on a whirlwind trip back and forth across the country on a fact-finding journey for his new position. At that time, United Airlines had a lot to fix; it was nobody's preferred airline and complaints were sky-high. Fortunately, before he fell ill, Munoz had hired many talented people who took over while he was recuperating, and until he was ready to work again.

The way to turn a company around, he said, is to "Listen, learn, and only then lead" your employees. Listen – not just to their phone calls and emails, but visit them in their own spaces. Strive to pull everyone together as a team and always follow through, which shows that you're paying attention. Ask for employee feedback in all corners of your business.

If there are problems, let customers vent, and heed their concerns. Know your own "knowledge of contribution." And remember that "Trust is a commodity that resists an easy valuation. But when you need it, it's priceless."

There are two rather distinct ways to see "Turnaround Time." It's either a personal biography with a business flair, or it's the biography of a business with a personal touch. Either way, it's an enjoyable read.

From the dusty roads of rural Mexico to the pinnacle of an international airline, authors Munoz and DeSplinter offer readers a true bootstraps kind of tale that pays homage to Munoz' family and the opportunities they gave him. Munoz' stories of his grandmother are particularly sweet, and readers will wish there were more; passages about his recovery are likewise harrowing, and feel like a medical thriller. These tales, and those of the airline and its revival, flow back and forth so smoothly you might forget, at its basis, that this is a business book. If you doubt that, look for the advice that's embedded and randomly scattered.

Readers wanting juicy tell-all flight stories will be disappointed, just so you know. This isn't that kind of book; instead, it's a warm tale of a man, his life, and his job. If that sounds like the perfect airport read, then find "Turnaround Time" and lock it up.