60 Secs with …. Rick Elieson, American Airlines Cargo President

American Airlines Cargo president, Rick Elieson

ACW: You have been in charge of one of the largest cargo networks in the world since early last year. Any regrets in taking the position?

Elieson: Moving to cargo has been fascinating and rewarding. Wherever I have gone, I have been fortunate to be surrounded by devoted and passionate people… and I am very impressionable. So if you combine a desire to learn, a willingness to be influenced and an environment full of passionate and informed people, it is no surprise that I’m having a lot of fun in cargo.

ACW: You do not seem to have had a freight background. Any surprises since you have been in the saddle?

Elieson: There have been loads of surprises! I see something that amazes me every time I walk through a warehouse. I am ashamed to admit how much I took the cargo industry for granted. I have also been surprised that in an industry teeming with so many innovative and entrepreneurial people. We are still so heavily dependent on paper processes. I firmly believe that failing to modernise is a significant disruption risk to our business and at American we are prioritising investments in our readiness to adopt eFreight standards.

ACW: What do you see as the key requirements to get the most from your staff?

Elieson: I am lucky to get to work with such great people and who know the business so well. I’m also lucky that my boss was also my predecessor and therefore has a good perspective on what it takes to succeed as a team. His advice to me when I took on the role – which of course I think is spot on – was to make sure the various teams and functions are all communicating well. High performers, who are unified in our objective to be the most trusted airline partner, need to stay close in order to make the most out of what each part of the business is developing and delivering.

ACW: American Airlines Cargo is committed to shrinking its carbon footprint. Is this something you will continue?

Elieson: It is wonderful when doing the right thing long term also has near-term efficiency benefits. That’s true of many of the things we’re doing to reduce our carbon footprint, from lighter containers, to newer aircraft, participating in biofuel trials, or our many recycling programs. But the programs that make me proudest are the many locally initiated programs. They may not add up to as much as some of the corporate-driven initiatives that are reducing our fuel consumption, but I like what it says about our culture when individuals at location after location are identifying unique ways they can step up their recycling and conservation efforts.

ACW: In terms of AA Cargo’s business, what are the main opportunities you see over the next five years?

Elieson: We need to be able to adapt to demand and the changing needs of our customers much faster. I’m a couple weeks premature to being able to share more, but 2018 will be a year of major investment for American in that ability to develop and distribute products more rapidly. It is a massive IT effort, but it is also a change in processes, decision making, and how we approach our business that I believe will benefit us for years to come – regardless of the direction the industry takes.

ACW: Will Brexit produce any problems for AA Cargo once the UK has left the EU? Are you making contingency plans?

Elieson: If anybody can tell me the impact that Brexit will have, they are hired! Given the size of our operation in the U.K., and how much of that freight originates elsewhere in Europe, Brexit is something we are monitoring very closely.

ACW: We finish the interview and you step outside the office and find a lottery ticket that ends up winning $10 million. What would you do?

Elieson: I am assuming that I get to keep the money and this isn’t a morality test about keeping someone else’s ticket! I will confess that $10 million dollars would get tucked safely away for retirement. I don’t think my life would change in any meaningful way. Perhaps I become a bigger tipper.

ACW: American football or soccer?

Elieson: I know it is sacrilege for someone who grew up in Texas, but definitely soccer. Each of my three kids played soccer when they were little, but my youngest, has stuck with it since he was 4-years old. He plays for a Liverpool Academy team.

ACW: Steak or spaghetti?

Elieson: 16 oz. steak, cooked medium rare.