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“Adversity,” said the poet Horace many centuries ago, “has the effect of eliciting talents which in prosperous circumstances would have lain dormant.” As we embark on a new decade, I want to take this opportunity to thank the men and women of American Airlines, whose talents were revealed — and needed — like never before during the past 10 years. I believe that by persevering through the toughest decade in our long history, we have built our character as a company and learned a few lessons too. One of the primary lessons is that difficult times make it even more important to maintain a focus on diversity and inclusion. While some companies see diversity as separate from their “real” business challenges, we know the opposite to be true. Our challenges are too big to let a single employee’s ideas or energy go to waste, so sustaining an environment of dignity, respect, and collaboration — where different perspectives are not only welcome but sought out — is critical.

I realize, of course, that lofty words from the CEO are no substitute for effective action. So I want to take this opportunity to highlight and congratulate the leaders and members of AA’s Employee Resource Groups (ERGs), whose energy and passion are the driving forces of our diversity efforts. ERGs are employee-governed grassroots organizations dedicated to enhancing the professional development of their members and to providing guidance on AA’s internal policies, communications, and marketing initiatives. Our 16 ERGs reflect the incredible range of cultural backgrounds and life experience within our team, and our Diversity Advisory Council, comprised of representatives from each ERG, acts as a valuable cross-cultural sounding board and source of ideas.

Tapping the unique insights of each employee is obviously important to any business. But when you’re competing in 40 countries in the world, as we are, it’s absolutely essential. Our success rests on our ability to connect with and deliver for an incredibly broad spectrum of customers, and American Airlines’ ERGs, in conjunction with leaders across the company, are helping us do that in a variety of ways. We are one of the few large companies with dedicated, diverse-segment sales-and- marketing teams focused on making sure our brand, products, and services are appealing and relevant to a globally diverse audience. Our Diversified Supplier program was launched more than 20 years ago to provide minority, women-owned, and small businesses the opportunity to partner with American. Today these companies supply AA with a range of goods and services, from fuel to wine. For more information on our approach to diversity and inclusion and to register your company with our Diversified Supplier program, visit www.aa.com/diversity.

While our employees deserve the lion’s share of the credit for making diversity and inclusion a way of life at American, I would be remiss not to point out that for many years, we benefited from the leadership and insights of Earl G. Graves Sr., founder and publisher of Black Enterprise magazine, who championed many of our diversity initiatives during his tenure on our Board of Directors. Earl chaired our Board Diversity Committee from 2002 until his retirement in 2008, when he handed the reins to Roger Staubach, a longtime member of our board who shares Earl’s passion for diversity but brings his own experiences and perspectives and continues to press us to do even better.

The business case for embracing the diversity of our coworkers, customers, and suppliers — in an ever more globalized economy — is obvious. But my hope is that the business case for diversity fuels, but never obscures, the moral and ethical duty we all have to treat all those we encounter, whether coworkers, customers, or fellow travelers, as unique individuals worthy of respect, dignity, and appreciation. At AA, we value diversity, not just because it works, but because it is right, and because it is consistent with our greater mission of connecting the world.

I want to close this, my first column of our new decade, by again thanking my colleagues at American Airlines for rising to meet every challenge during the last 10 years. And of course, thank you for flying with us today. Happy New Year!

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Gerard J. Arpey
Chairman & CEO
American Airlines