wo very different stories came to my
attention this past week that have a common thread. First, Don
Carty, president and CEO of American Airlines -- which lost $3.5
billion last year -- did not deposit a bonus check. Second, travel
agency owner Arnold Greenblad bought a coffin.
And each helped his respective business in a significant
Let's look at Carty first. It would not, on first blush, seem
unusual that the leader of a business that has lost billions (and
may yet declare bankruptcy) doesn't enjoy the boon of a bonus. But
it is extremely unusual. Let's see who did deposit a bonus:
Continental's Gordon Bethune, whose airline reported a loss of
$451 million for the past four quarters, took a bonus of $625,000
on top of his $1.1 million salary.
Leo Mullin of Delta, an airline that has bled $1.3 billion for
the past four reporting periods, received a $1.4 million bonus over
and above his $795,000 salary.
Northwest's Richard Anderson, with typical Midwestern modesty,
accepted only $250,000 over and above his $500,000 salary. His
airline lost $798 million in the same time period.
And United's Glenn Tilton, hired in September, received a
signing bonus of $3 million on top of the $312,000 in salary he
received for the partial year. United lost $3.2 billion last
What is especially noteworthy about Carty is that, according to
American, he was offered a bonus in 2002 but refused it. American
said Carty also refused a bonus in 2001 and will not take one this
Now let's move on to Greenblad, owner of Atlas Travel in
Brockton, Mass., and his coffin.
His agency serves a large Haitian community. A client of his
recently came into his office. Her husband had died, and she was
inquiring about bereavement fares so her Haitian relatives could
attend the funeral. In the course of the conversation, she
mentioned how much she had paid the funeral home for a casket:
$3,200. Greenblad recognized that was a high sum, so he took her
online and found the same casket for $1,800. She had no credit
card, so he used his and she paid him back in cash.
Earlier, I promised a common thread to their stories, and it is
this: Both Carty and Greenblad demonstrated they understand the
role that personal conduct plays in the maintenance of business
I have no doubt that Carty's refusal to take a bonus enabled him
to face his labor force and say, "I'm voluntarily making a
financial concession to the realities of this business. You must do
so, too." And they did, allowing him to pull back, for the time
being, from the verge of bankruptcy.
Greenblad attended the wake of his client's husband, where word
had spread about her savings of $1,400, and his role in it. The
continued health of his business may well depend on the trust the
community places in him, and his actions consistently reward that
"It's all part of the travel business, isn't it?" he said.
"Helping people out? You might say I helped arrange someone's last
trip, his last accommodations."
Carty has had his differences with the travel agency community,
but his bonus boycott at least demonstrates his personal commitment
to his company's survival. Greenblad likewise demonstrates his
concern for his community and, by extension, to the survival of his
An existentialist would say that your life is judged by what you
do. Not by what you say, not by what you intend, not by how much
money you make, but how you act and how your actions affect
The examples above are by no means a complete picture of these
individuals. They just represent some raw existential data to mull
over when sizing up what sort of fellow each is -- and in Carty's
case, to look at how he compares with his competitors.