Lessons of the fall (cont.)
Donald: Howard [Schultz] and I had a meeting. It was on a Sunday evening, at Howard's house. Howard hugged me when I walked in. Then he informed me that the board had decided to make a change, and they were going to reinstall Howard as the CEO. As I drove home, I wasn't in shock. Because this is what happens in the big leagues. When I walked in my house, my wife, Laura, said, "Wow, that was a quick meeting. Did you lose your job?" I said, "As a matter of fact, I did."
What was your first phone call?
Donald: First phone call was to my mom. Probably the toughest day I've ever faced, ever. Ever, ever, ever! Because moms have a way of putting their sons up on pedestals. I had to let her down easy, and she was great.
What did you say to her?
Donald: I said, "Mom, how are you?" And she goes, "Great. Why are you calling me at ten in the morning?" I just said, "Hey, I just want to tell you, I'm not with Starbucks (SBUX, Fortune 500) anymore, but everything is fine."
What did you do later that day?
Donald: I went for a long row. By myself. In a single shell.
It's an interesting coincidence that on Feb. 14 last year, the day that Howard Schultz put out a well-publicized memo talking about the watering down of the Starbucks experience, David was dealing with his nightmare: an ice storm that grounded thousands of flights and left hundreds of passengers stranded on the tarmac for hours.
Neeleman: That just about killed me, really.
Zander: Would you have done things differently, from a PR point of view? Because we've all faced crises.
Neeleman: I think on the PR side, we did it right. I've always learned, if you make a mistake, you admit to it. You explain what happened. And then you explain how it's never going to happen again and what you're doing to make sure it doesn't. It's a very simple formula, I think. But really there were two events: the stranding of people on airplanes, which was absolutely inexcusable. Then there was the lingering on how it took us three, four days to get all our flights back in the air. We learned our lessons from that.
[Later] a couple of board members came to my office and said, basically, "We want you to step down as CEO and be the chairman and be responsible for strategy." I was flabbergasted. I couldn't believe it. Just the fact that I was flabbergasted - either I'm the biggest idiot on the planet or maybe the process could have been better.
The ice storm was Feb. 14. This was a few months later, right?
Neeleman: May 9. I couldn't get hold of my wife. Her mother was dying. So on the morning of May 10, I got hold of her to tell her, "Honey, it's going to be in the press that ..." She said, "My mom just died." Timing was horrible.
Oh, boy. How'd your wife feel about the job loss?
Neeleman: I think your family - they sacrificed a lot to start JetBlue. We picked up and moved from Salt Lake to Connecticut, and the kids were uprooted from their grandparents. I think they felt they had sacrificed. I think among the kids there was a little bitterness. You forget sometimes that they're part of the business with you and that they feel what you feel. It's a family deal to do it and a family deal to leave. It's something they have to go through together.
Tell us about the day you stepped down, Ed.
Zander: The day I announced, it was toward the end of November 2007. I took off for India to make sales calls. So I went to India and came back through the Middle East and then did a lot of traveling, visiting employee sites, in December. I left Dec. 31.
And it was bittersweet?
Zander: Yes. You want to keep going. I love customers. I loved every time I'd get into the field with the employees in India and China and Brazil and Israel and Russia, and all these places where Motorola has sales and development offices. I averaged probably one to two town hall meetings a week for four years. And you get inspiration from that. The business looked like it was starting to come back, but you have to know when your time is up.
When you go back to work, Jim, are you going to work for a founder?