NBC's Vieira Wants CEO to Guarantee No More Flights Will Be Cancelled
In the latest CEO hot-seat interview, NBCâ€™s Meredith Vieira asked Northwest CEO Douglas Steenland to guarantee that nothing would ever mess with his airlineâ€™s flights again.
â€śDo you fly to San Francisco by any chance?â€ť the host of NBCâ€™s â€śTodayâ€ť show asked on the August 15 program. â€śOK, I have to go out there, are you going to promise me, guarantee me, that if I buy a ticket at the end of August you wonâ€™t cancel that flight?â€ť
Vieira phrased the outrageous question as though it was Steenlandâ€™s fault that a high number of flights had been cancelled earlier in the summer. In addition to the usual weather and mechanical problems airlines face, however, Air Traffic Control has faced â€śgridlockâ€ť conditions this summer, according to The Wall Street Journal.
One of the main reasons for so many cancellations was, according to Steenland, â€śthis year was really a transition year for us. The economic signs were positive so we grew the airline by almost 4 percent. This was the first summer that we were implementing some new work rules. They didnâ€™t quite work the way we were expecting â€¦â€ť
Vieira cut off Steenland: â€śThey were sort of a failure, right?â€ť
Vieira spent almost the entire five-and-a-half-minute interview criticizing Steenland.
â€śI donâ€™t doubt your sincerity,â€ť she said, â€śbut do you understand â€¦ um â€¦ some of the anger thatâ€™s been directed at you? I mean these pilots, for example flight attendants, they took pay cuts, to help save this airline at the same time you were given almost $27 million in stock and stock options.â€ť
Steenland corrected her, reminding her that stock gains depend on how the company does in the next few years â€“ he wasnâ€™t â€śgivenâ€ť $27 million.
â€śFirst, Meredith, that number is simply wrong,â€ť he said. â€śIn 2006 I received a fraction of that number in terms of what my compensation was. Iâ€™ve taken a 20-percent reduction in base salary, and I voluntarily didnâ€™t accept incentive payments that were due to me. If you look at my compensation compared to other Fortune 500 CEOs, Iâ€™m in the bottom 10 percent. I did get a stock grant â€“ itâ€™s going to be four years before we know if I realize all of it, and itâ€™s entirely based on what the value of the company is. There are no guarantees involved.â€ť
According to USA Today, while Northwest comes out of its restructuring process, â€śSteenland could get stock and stock options worth $27 million over the next four years under its re-organization plan.â€ť Of course that depends on how well the company does. According to the Minneapolis Star Tribune, Steenland made $1.88 million last year, putting him 38th among CEOs just in the state of Minnesota.