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American Airlines CIO on stepping down amid bankruptcy

Kim S. Nash | Dec. 16, 2011
In this Q&A, CIO Magazine Hall of Fame member and soon-to-be ex-CIO of American Airlines Monte Ford talks about technology influence, cultivating future leaders and feeling sad.

What do you wish you'd known about leadership 11 years ago?

I wish I knew as much about how to develop people as I do today. But the only way to know that is to do it. How you reward people makes a difference. In IT, we've always paid people what they deserve to be paid, even in difficult times. Salary is a statement.

But how you treat them, recognize them and promote diversity in the workplace all matter. Diversity is not just how many men or women or Hispanics and African Americans. It's how open you are to suggestions from people who don't have your background.

Your successor is Maya Leibman, who has worked at American for 17 years, most recently as president of the AAdvantage customer loyalty program. What are you and she talking about these days?

I got Maya out [of IT, where she helped launch curbside check-in and self-service kiosks] into the business units. She's a very smart and very talented individual with a great personality. Maya has a different style than I do but philosophically, we agree.

What's next -- teaching, consulting, another CIO role?

I think I have opportunities in all of those. I want to live so that I create a void when I leave. I want there to be a hole in the planet where I was. A CIO like me at a big company has a higher calling. Not only as a matter of integrity and how you live your life but how you treat people and manage in times of need.

A CIO like me is supposed create an environment where innovation comes first. I'm supposed to find and pick small, young companies. When guys like me are willing to go with a different provider or a new technology or take a chance, those staid IT companies function better and [later] produce better products. The innovation I want to promote is not just at American, but across the IT industry.

What do you think your last day will be like?

I'm going to spend that day with Maya, talk with her about all the things she's done, encourage her, embolden her. It's going to be a very, very sad day for me, but I'm sure Maya and I will share a few laughs and hugs. Then I will sigh and relax and set my phone down. If Maya calls, I'll answer.


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