Former American Airlines President and CEO encourages persistence and integrity

Leila Ruiz

Tom Horton, former president and CEO of American Airlines, spoke about his perspective on leadership Tuesday as part of the University’s VIP Distinguished Speaker Series.  

Horton was president, chairman and CEO of AMR Corporation until its merger with US Airways Group formed American Airlines Group, Inc. in December 2013.

After being elected president of AMR Corporation, then immediately voting with the board of directors to declare bankruptcy in one decisive 2011 phone call, Horton said it was his stubbornness and determination that allowed him to remain optimistic and eventually help turn the company around.

“I had sort of a dogged, maybe persistent, belief in that, and I think people eventually got behind me — that’s where we landed,” Horton said. “Stubbornness almost to the point of dumb optimism [allowed me to be successful].”

McCombs Undergraduate Dean David Platt, who interviewed Horton throughout the talk, said he would emphasize to students the importance of persistence. 

“Resilience is vastly underrated,” Pratt said. “If people could take something away from him it’s to know that people like him, at the highest levels of [a] company and who influence how everyone else thinks about it, are really so sincerely serious about integrity.”

Drawing upon Warren Buffet, William Shakespeare and George Strait quotes to give business advice to students, Horton emphasized hard work, integrity and humility. Horton said this commitment to ethics could be manifested by a strong belief in capitalism.

“I believe in the golden rule … as a principle property of business,” Horton said. “We need to be successful in producing a good product for our customers which … will produce security, jobs and hopefully growth in jobs … there’s almost nothing you can do better for your fellow man than to give him a job.” 

Charlie  Adkins, chair of the VIP Distinguished Speakers Series and business honors and accounting sophomore, said he has been continuously impressed by the affability of the speakers, especially Horton’s commitment to character and hard work.

“Behind being CEOs of a company, [VIP distinguished speakers] have also been really great people and I think that’s something that’s really important to look for in a leaders,” Adkins said. “It really hit home with how you should do negotiations and have business and just leadership in general.”