I was in the Navy, and by default, I got promoted to petty officer second class. I supervised the second shift, which worked from seven at night to seven in the morning. We were airplane mechanics, but I was in charge. I had to get these other eight guys to help me fix all these airplanes; I couldn’t do it by myself. I was very good at it because I treated them the way I wanted to be treated.

I learned that you can be successful if you get people to help you become successful. You’re going to be in charge of an organization or a shift of workers or something that’s going to require cooperation to run it well. And the only way you’re going to get that is to openly acknowledge and appreciate the contribution of others to the success of whatever it is you’re doing. So every time somebody gives you an award, you have to let it be known that it wasn’t you, it was all these other people who’ve done this wonderful job. And they sit up straight and feel real good, and the next day they work harder to help you be successful.

It really helps to know what success is before you get there, and if you know, then you can head right for it. For some people, it’s the most money. For some, it’s the most power. For some, it’s the most girlfriends. Everybody’s got a measure. For me, I guess it’s having the respect and admiration of your peers. If the people you respect think you’re okay, you feel good about being successful. Because of what we have been able to do the past five or six years, many of our employees actually think I’ve made a contribution around here. They treat me like a valued team member. So whether I’m at the hangar or at the airport or on an airplane, I get respect. And that’s the best part of my day.

Gordon Bethune was born in Austin. After dropping out of high school at age seventeen, he joined the Navy, serving for twenty years. In 1979, a year after returning to civilian life, he was hired by Braniff Airlines. Over the next nine years, he held senior management positions at Braniff, Western Airlines, and Piedmont Airlines and earned a bachelor’s degree in general studies from Abilene Christian University, in Dallas. In 1988 he signed on at Boeing, where he rose to become vice president and general manager of the Renton Division. In February 1994 he was hired away by Houston-based Continental Airlines and was named CEO nine months later, adding the additional title of chairman of the board in September 1996. During his tenure, Continental has been profitable for twenty consecutive quarters.