Topics and Themes
Every topic listed here can be customized to fit any need, from multi-day workshop to conference keynote to university guest lecture. And if something of interest isn’t listed, just ask -- Rob has a lot of bandwidth, but if he can’t deliver, he’ll tell you.

Click on each title to see a video snippet

Ten Things I've Learned about Leadership

This is the talk audiences request the most, a lively look at leadership from a long practitioner with a proven track record. Ten Things covers a wide range of challenges, from the pitfalls of overanalysis to hiring and firing to the importance of character and strong values. And it's provocative, sure to engage you, and make you think long after you leave.


Successful Management in Turbulent Times

Business has gotten a lot harder in the past few decades. Markets are more competitive, margins are thinner, and   human and financial resources are fewer. Unexpected bad news arrives more often. When times get tough, strong leadership can be the difference between success and failure. Rob tracks American Airlines through a decade of crisis, from before 9/11, and lays out key lessons for flying through turbulence, with a focus on successful management of people and dollars. And a bias for action.


Learning from Startups: Lessons for Entrepreneurs

In the past decade, Rob has consulted with ten startups. His long career in an old, large, complex company provided a distinct perspective, and he has distilled his experience with tech companies into this lively talk, which is a must for students eager to start a new venture, or those who have already begun. The presentation can take two directions – one delves more deeply into a single startup, and the other synthesizes learning from his experience with four new firms.

(Crisis Management)2

What would you do if two of your company’s airplanes were stolen and used as weapons? How would you rebuild? In this sobering talk, Rob, who became head of American Airlines’ advertising and marketing planning team three weeks after September 11, will explain what American did to rebuild. He looks at other crises, and discusses best practices.

Effective Hiring and Humane Firing

In surveys of tasks managers dislike most, selecting and terminating people ranks toward the top.  Rob’s contrary view is that personnel decisions offer remarkable opportunity to improve your department and larger organization.  Yes, it takes time, and it’s worth it.  In this practical talk, Rob outlines ideas for effective recruitment and promotion (like how to ask good interview questions). And he takes on, with real examples, how to terminate to minimize distress and maximize dignity and respect.

Developing Emotional Capital

Lately, cutting-edge business experts have acknowledged something that insightful managers have long understood: collective emotional intelligence (EI) is an important element of business success. Organizations with high levels of EI collaborate better, foster greater innovation, resolve conflict more regularly, create happier workplaces, and build stores of strength that can be drawn down during challenging times.  In this talk, Rob introduces this emerging field, explains cases where EI clearly improved the company, and offers some practical suggestions to build EI across an organization.  It may not be as easily measured as financial capital, but emotional capital is a clear source of strength.

Understanding and Transforming Culture

Corporate culture is one of those buzz-phrases, bandied about and often abused.  But culture -- meaning collective beliefs, ways of thinking, and processes for acting -- is a very real part of every organization. Too often, leaders spend too much time and money crafting a future culture, without regard for existing cultural traits that prevent change. Some of those may be positive, but many are bad. Rob offers ideas on how to vanquish the monsters, and to create real and lasting change.

A Better Way to Work with Suppliers

We increasingly contract with suppliers for a range of services we once did ourselves, but many companies cling to old and unproductive models of supplier relationships. Adversarial ways of doing business simply do not work. In this enlightening talk, Rob lays out new approaches that reconcile different interests and seek common ground. Open, frequent communication, development of clear objectives, written direction, respect -- none of this is that hard! 

Improving Service Quality

Services account for about 75% of the U.S. economy, a number that is growing. Everyone, whether served or server, wants better service. But how to achieve it? In this compelling talk, Rob first defines service quality, then develops a way to understand how things can go wrong, and how to fix them. And we deal with the often untouched question of cost: is improving service quality profitable? Not surprisingly, the airline industry is the base case -- a business that everyone thinks they can improve!

Effective Employee Communications

Employee engagement has become a popular concept, and effective written and spoken communications are an important element. Unhappily, many organizations continue with stale approaches to employee communications  a tired company newsletter (even if converted to an e-publication), little strategic vision, no imagination in how to communicate key points -- or perhaps worse, no communication at all. Rob tears through the clutter and outlines realistic and sensible ideas to make sure that employees understand how the business works (including basic finance), prospects for growth, threats, current issues, and more.

Advice for Graduating Students: Ideas for Real Life

Maybe it’s the enthusiasm of youth, but this talk always gets the loudest applause. A staple in Rob’s many years of campus talks, these ideas seem basic, even obvious, but students frequently tell him, "No one ever explained this stuff.  Not my parents.  Not my professors." The ten pieces of advice are all aimed at helping young people make a successful transition to career and adult life. No preaching, just clear direction.  

Cross-cultural Management Success: A Case Study

Commerce is increasingly global, yet many companies fail outside their home country, because they do not understand that culture matters. Cultural differences, both national and organizational, are powerful and persistent, something that smart companies acknowledge and integrate in their business planning.  Rob tells the story of one of history’s most successful cross-cultural ventures, General Electric (USA) and Snecma (France) jointly building the world's most successful commercial jet engine. The joint venture offers many lessons over more than four decades of cross-cultural collaboration.

A First-person View of Corporate Turnaround

Republic Airlines was an early (1980) example of airline consolidation, but the leadership did not know how to thrive in the newly-deregulated U.S. airline industry.  Pressured by debt-holders and others, the company hired an experienced CEO, Stephen Wolf, who led a dramatic turnaround in less than three years.  This strategy case study tells the story from the inside, an effort that combined labor-cost reductions, restructuring network, marketing initiatives, and a start at transforming corporate culture -- all with a surprise ending.