Ed Bastian – From New York Auditor To Major Airline CEO

It has now been over four years since Delta Air Lines appointed Ed Bastian as its chief executive officer. As the Atlanta-based carrier goes through a tough time within the industry, the businessman’s professional expertise will play a crucial role in the current climate.

Ed Bastian CEO
Ed Bastian has the skills to lead Delta out of its struggles once the worst part of the aviation crisis is over. Photo: Delta Air Lines

An illustrious career

Bastian is no stranger to a challenge. Not only has he been with Delta through some of the most sensitive times in aviation history, but he has filled important posts at some of the United States’ most prolific companies.

He grew up in Poughkeepsie, New York, and earned his Business Administration degree at St. Bonaventure University. This qualification helped him kickstart his career, which began at Price Waterhouse (now PwC).

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He became an audit partner in the firm’s New York office, and during a 1981 annual review, he uncovered a $50 million fraud scheme, which involved J. Walter Thompson, the advertising mogul. His proactivity soon enabled him to become a partner of Price Waterhouse at just 31 years of age.

Bastian shortly left the professional services company to try his hand at the food & drinks world. He became a vice president at PepsiCo and managed international finances for the corporation’s Frito-Lay department.

New York
The professional worked for several other major corporations in the US before taking the helm at Delta. Photo: PwC

The beginnings at Delta

1998 was a pivotal year for Bastian, as this was when he first joined Delta. His first title was Vice President – Finance and Controller, but he was quickly promoted to senior vice president in 2000.

He served this post during a critical time as the aviation industry was struggling to come to terms with the post-9/11 climate. Nonetheless, Delta managed to survive the period, and Bastian temporarily left the firm in 2005 to join Acuity Brands.

He was the senior vice president and chief financial officer of the lighting and building management company. However, his stint there didn’t last so long as he returned to Delta just six months later as its chief financial officer. In 2007, he was appointed as the airline’s president, a year before the global economic crisis would shake up the market once again.

Ed Bastian Delta
Bastian is truly a veteran when it comes to business management. Photo: Delta Air Lines

Climbing out of the mud

The worldwide recession, rising oil prices, and the H1N1 virus transformed the economy for several years. Industry passenger revenues declined by nearly 20% in the first four months of 2009. Therefore, Delta had to implement strict measures to reduce the impact of the crisis on the firm. Bastian, alongside CEO Richard Anderson, suspended several flights as a result.

Nonetheless, the strong relationship between the two company leaders steered Delta back in the right direction. This partnership meant that Bastian was a natural fit to take over his colleague at the helm in May 2016.

Bastian and Anderson Delta
Anderson and Bastian worked alongside each other as CEO and president for nearly a decade. Photo: Delta Air Lines

The new CEO has received praise since taking on the role. In 2018, he was named as one of the “The World’s 50 Greatest Leaders” by Fortune magazine. Additionally, in 2019, he was elected to the membership of the Council on Foreign Relations.

One aspect of business that Bastian emphasizes is the importance of looking after members of staff. He understands that if workers are happy, then the customer will also be taken care of.

He said the following in a letter to Senator Bernie Sanders last year:

“Delta is the most successful airline on the globe because of our people, and taking care of them is my No. 1 job. We take great pride in the fact that they are the best-performing, best-compensated aviation professionals in our industry.”

Evidence of Delta rewarding its members of staff under Bastian’s leadership is through its profit-sharing plan. Earlier this year, it announced that it would pay out an extra $1.6 billion for its 90,000 plus employees. This figure is a record-breaking amount for Delta, and it is a result of a strong financial performance in 2019.

Crucial moments

Unfortunately, the global health crisis caused a significant shift within the aviation industry, and Delta has been forced to ground most of its aircraft for much of the year so far. Revenues are a fraction of what they were, and several cost-cutting measures are now being implemented.

There could be significant layoffs by the end of the year across a number of businesses, and Delta is no exception. However, Bastian stresses how carriers will play an essential role in the future of the country’s economy.

Ed Bastian
Bastian believes that there will be a vital role for airlines as the world enters a new age of business. Photo: Delta Air Lines

The executive kept close links with the financial sector over the years. Earlier this week, he spoke with Goldman Sachs CEO David Solomon about the importance of forming relationships. Moreover, he shared how airlines have helped form connections across the US.

Bastian said the following in the discussion:

“Relationships don’t get formed through the phone. Air travel is how we’re wired as a country. For personal reasons, think about the way our family structures are – people live in different parts of the country, and the need to be together has never been greater. Air travel facilitates that.”

The work continues

Altogether, the CEO’s experience of dealing with industry challenges will prove to be useful going forward. There will definitely be a series of tough calls to make.

Even though today’s issues are different from previous situations, the executive’s expertise will be put to good use in this new era. If anyone can lead the operator out of this struggle, it is Ed Bastian.

What are your thoughts about Ed Bastian’s journey of becoming CEO of Delta Air Lines? How has he performed over the years since joining the company? Let us know what you think of his rise in the comment section.