Notes from the CEO:                        "Fight On!”- Lessons from USC and Pilot Training

Posted by Arvind Singh on May 6, 2020

So, just a bit of background context…my daughter’s undergrad alma mater is University of Southern California (I still call it the “other school in town” affectionately, given that I'm a UCLA alum!) While she was at USC, we used to enjoy going to their football games and quickly picked up on the USC battle cry, “FIGHT ON!”. That spirit to FIGHT ON always stood out to me as a profound personal and professional statement, something we could all learn from and apply in the business world.

In a business crisis (of the kind we are facing right now), we have two options – FIGHT or FLIGHT. If we retreat, it can take a lot longer to recover when things get back to normal, worst still put a company’s survival at risk. So, the only real choice during a crisis is to stay in the game and FIGHT ON!

I often use an aviation analogy from my student pilot days: if you find yourself in an emergency, Rule #1 is to “Keep flying the aircraft!” It’s a rule that can save your life. Once you stabilize the aircraft, you assess whether to continue flying or look for a landing site to land safely. One of my all-time heroes, Captain Sully Sullenberger (of the famed US Airways Flight #1549) embodied the spirit to “FIGHT ON” that fateful afternoon on Jan 15, 2009 when both engines on his Airbus A320 went out within minutes of taking off from La Guardia airport.

Not only did Capt. Sully not panic, he stayed calm and KEPT FLYING: he and his co-pilot stabilized the aircraft from its climb (remember they had no power), and ran through their checklist to restart the engines, albeit unsuccessfully. Realizing they needed an emergency landing, he assessed the feasibility of making it to nearby airports, concluding within seconds they had no chance. Instead, he pivoted to a water landing and headed towards the Hudson river. The result? By staying calm and doing what he had trained for all his life, he executed a very tricky landing flawlessly, saving ALL 155 aboard!

It’s no different in business! If we panic and freeze in an emergency, we are doomed. But, if we stay calm under pressure and keep working through the challenges (i.e. keep flying the plane), we can survive to fight another day, and perhaps even grow! And just like pilots rely on their instruments for accurate speed, altitude, and direction information, business executives rely on accurate analytics to make decisions of consequence in real-time. Those analytics dashboards in turn run on the assumption that the underlying data Is accurate and trustworthy.

I have been fortunate enough to have survived through multiple downturns and business crises over the years – with lots of learnings along the way that I'd like to summarize for you:

  • Prepare for a crisis before you face one
  • Stay calm in the face of unexpected adversity
  • Stabilize the business, then think “outside-the-box” for options
  • Pivot quickly, sometimes taking unusual paths, and execute flawlessly (you might only have one shot to get it right!)

In closing, our thanks to Capt. Sully for teaching us the true meaning of two simple words - FIGHT ON! This is what real leadership is about when faced with unimaginable pressure and adversity!

“Notes from the CEO,” is a part of a serialized weekly publication by Utopia featuring candid and inspiring thoughts from Utopia’s Co-Founder and CEO, Arvind Singh. Arvind will explore topics such as living in the “new normal,” focusing on “we,” personal reflection, finding opportunities in dynamic times, and motivational habits. It’s part business, part life, and all positive thinking. Check back weekly to see the latest release in the series.

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