Japan Airlines CEO makes less than pilots, wins Ribby Award


In 2009, Japan Airlines CEO Haruka Nishimatsu addressed business challenges and kept employee morale high, by acting unselfishly.

Haruka Nishimatsu

Haruka Nishimatsu

As I continue struggling to find United States CEOs who unselfishly lead their companies, the Ribby Award for August goes to the President and CEO of Japan Airlines (JAL), Haruka Nishimatsu, who earns less than his pilots, rides the bus to work, and eats in the company cafeteria.

Last year Mr. Nishimatsu cut his own salary to $90,000 when he was forced to make pay reductions across the board at the $20 billion airline, the world’s 10th largest. Although JAL and all airlines currently face extraordinary hardship, his common-man approach is not new. It has helped him motivate employees and keep morale high despite continuous route, cost and personnel reductions.

Nishimatsu recently told CBS News: “If management is distant, up in the clouds, people just wait for orders. I want my people to think for themselves.”

That is why he:

  • Took out the walls of his office so that employees could approach him at any time.
  • Buys his suits at a discount store, because he believes a boss who wears Armani puts himself at arms length from other workers.
  • Eats in the cafeteria to make it easy for ambitious people with good ideas to communicate with him.
  • Jumps on planes all the time to help flight attendants and speak with passengers.

Last October, JAL won the Centre for Asia Pacific Aviation Airline Turnaround of the Year 2008 Award. In 2009, JAL’s performance continues to improve although cost pressures remain. Now, Mr. Nishimatsu has a Ribby Award.

Ribby Award winners are leaders who put their customers and employees before themselves. Each month, it recognizes a chief executive or business owner, who steps out of plush offices, away from armies of assistants and sycophants, to personally manage and promote.

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