Atlanta’s Delta Air Lines a model for corporate America
By Maria Saporta
Bashing business has become a popular sport these days.
And some of that bashing is well deserved.
But we also must celebrate companies when they act in the best interests of their employees, stakeholders, their communities and the world.
Atlanta-based Delta Air Lines is such a company.
Just this past week, Delta gave its 90,000 employees a collective $1.6 billion in bonus as part of its annual Valentine’s Day tradition. Of the $1.6 billion, $571 million was distributed to employees in Atlanta. (Company officers and executives are not included in those bonuses).
For the event, Delta unveiled a plane dedicated to all of its employees – listing all their names to form the word “thank you” on the airplane. Delta CEO Ed Bastian often jokes that Valentine’s Day is the best day to fly on the airline because all the employees are especially happy on the job.
It’s the sixth straight Valentine’s Day that Delta has distributed bonuses to its employees – one of the largest profit-sharing payouts in corporate America.
It’s the company’s way of thanking its employees who stayed with the airline during the years when it was in bankruptcy and operating in the red. The bonuses also wonderfully align the company’s bottom line with the compensation of employees. If the airline is doing well financially, they will share in Delta’s good fortune.
But Delta didn’t stop there.
On the same day that it distributed the bonuses, Delta announced that starting on March 1, it will commit $1 billion over the next 10 years to mitigate all emissions from its global operations to become the first carbon-neutral airline.
At long last, a major airline is owning up to the environmental costs of the aviation industry and to the perilous issues of climate change.
In a release, Delta said the airline will invest in driving innovation, advancing clean air travel technologies, accelerating the reduction of carbon emissions and waste, and establishing new projects to mitigate the balance of emissions.
“There is no substitute for the power that travel has to connect people, which our world needs today more than ever before,” Bastian said. “As we connect customers around the globe, it is our responsibility to deliver on our promise to bring people together and ensure the utmost care for our environment. The time is now to accelerate our investments and establish an ambitious commitment that the entire Delta team will deliver.”
And that’s not all.
Delta announced in 2016 that it would contribute 1 percent of its net income to charitable organizations each year. In 2019, that amounted to more than $55 million.
Fortunately, Atlanta is Delta’s hometown. That means Atlanta enjoys more than its fair share of Delta’s generosity.
And while I’m doing my own thank you to Delta, I have to mention that its executives have been among the most courageous in Georgia to stand up to discriminatory issues, such as proposed religious freedom legislation and for a reasonable and compassionate immigration policy.
It also is refreshing to see company executives letting it be known that it is pleased with the current governance structure of Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport – opposing a state-takeover of what is indisputably the most important economic development asset in Georgia.
Lastly, more than any other company in Atlanta today, Delta is stepping up to the leadership plate.
Bastian is chair of the Atlanta Committee for Progress, the influential group of business and civic leaders who serve as a kitchen cabinet for Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms.
Bastian also is chair-elect of the Metro Atlanta Chamber, one of the most important community roles in the region.
And it’s not just Bastian.
Peter Carter, an executive vice president and chief legal officer as well as Delta’s corporate secretary, is the 2020 chair of the Georgia Chamber of Commerce.
At a time when many of Atlanta’s top corporations are headed by executives who have few civic ties, it’s refreshing to see Delta executives invest both their time and money in the community.
So, thank you Delta Air Lines for helping restore faith in corporate America and for
Let’s hope other companies will follow your lead.