As communicators, the words we choose for ourselves and craft for our organizations and clients are profoundly important. They can unite us or divide us. Engage us or enrage us. Heal us or hurt us. Let there be no mistake — our words matter. But, as the guardians of reputation and the torchbearers of trust for the leaders and organizations we advise and represent, now more than ever it is important that we relentlessly ensure that we mean what we say and say what we mean (as the saying goes).
Increasingly, every corporation bears a heavy responsibility to ensure that not only what they say — but more importantly what they do — backs up those words. People are increasingly asking business to play a leading role in not only delivering value for shareholders, but also taking purposeful action to help make the world a better place. In fact, the 2017 Edelman Trust Barometer found that 75 percent believe a company can take specific actions that both increase profits and improve the economic and social conditions in the community in which it operates. Global social responsibility is no longer an option. It is a business imperative.
At United Airlines, we are heeding this call to action.
As I write this, our CEO Oscar Munoz is just returning from a trip to Houston. As one of our largest hubs and a city that over 11,000 of our employees call home, this is not an uncommon journey for Oscar. But this trip was different than the many visits he’s made since joining United as CEO two years ago.
This trip was about being with our employees and their families who had been devastated by Hurricane Harvey. It was a last minute, unannounced trip. No press release or entourage. Oscar simply wanted to be with his fellow employees and not just see Harvey’s impact for himself — but actually feel it. The magnitude of Harvey’s wrath stirred his heart, but at the same time, his heartache was nurtured by emotional scenes and stories of our employees coming together in heroic ways to help each other and their communities.
Like many concerned leaders, Oscar has been sending heartfelt messages of concern and support for our employees, their families and everyone in Houston who had been touched by this ferocious storm. But Oscar also recognized something very important — that as genuine and caring as his written messages were, his actions and those of our company would ring much louder than his words.
That’s precisely why over the past week, in addition to visiting Houston, Oscar and United have turned our commitment into meaningful action. As an airline, we are uniquely prepared — through our planes and sophisticated logistical capabilities — to use our wings for good when tragedy strikes.
In the immediate days that followed Harvey’s landfall, we turned our commercial airline into a humanitarian operation to deliver aid and relief to victims. We flew nearly 40 relief flights that carried almost 300,000 pounds of vital necessities, including food, water, medical supplies, pillows and blankets. We turned one of our hangars at the Houston airport into an operations base for FEMA. And we facilitated more than $4 million in customer, employee and company contributions to relief efforts, including a commitment from Oscar to personally match every dollar donated by his fellow employees — up to $1 million — to our United We Care emergency relief fund.
Sadly, as I put the pen down on this essay, we are already preparing for yet another vicious storm — Hurricane Irma — as she races across the Caribbean towards the Florida coast. Alongside many other concerned corporations, we will once again show that actions speak louder than words.
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