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Happy New Year! Chances are you’re reading this onboard an American Airlines aircraft, so let me congratulate you on getting the new year off to a flying start. I know we are all focused on and energized by the challenges and opportunities awaiting us in 2011, but in my first column of the year I’d like to take a small step back and talk about one of my personal highlights of 2010. On Nov. 10, it was my privilege and honor to attend the Kyoto Prize Presentation Ceremony in Kyoto, Japan, with my wife, Lisa. We were there as guests of Dr. Kazuo Inamori, chairman of Japan Airlines (JAL). As you know, JAL is a very important and valued member of our oneworld global alliance, and one of the things I’m most looking forward to in 2011 is the launch of AA and JAL’s joint venture across the Pacific.

By taking the reins at JAL last year, Dr. Inamori has embarked on the latest chapter in an extraordinary life and career. From his humble beginnings in Kagoshima, Japan, his entrepreneurial spirit led him to found Kyocera (originally Kyoto Ceramic Co.) in 1959, at the age of 27. At that time, business in Japan was dominated by large corporations. Nonetheless, by following “the simple truths and principles that generally are accepted as standards of decent human behavior,” Dr. Inamori grew Kyocera from a startup in his garage into a hugely successful, multibillion-dollar global business. Later, when Japan’s telecommunications industry was deregulated, he established DDI Corporation (now KDDI) and, despite entrenched competition, defied long odds to make that company another huge success.

An ordained Buddhist priest, Dr. Inamori has a passion for entrepreneurship fueled by a belief that our greatest calling in life is to work for the greater good of mankind. In the 1980s, determined to give back to the society that had given him so much, he established the nonprofit Inamori Foundation and Kyoto Prizes. The Kyoto Prizes honor men and women who make significant contributions to humanity in the fields of Advanced Technology, Basic Sciences, and Arts and Philosophy. Since 1985, Kyoto Prizes, considered by many to be equivalent to the Nobel Prize, have been awarded to scientists, researchers, engineers, philosophers, architects, sculptors, musicians and film directors, reflecting Dr. Inamori’s conviction that the world’s future depends on a balance between scientific progress and spiritual depth.

It was inspiring and more than a little humbling to attend the Kyoto Prize Presentation Ceremony, and I’d like to salute 2010’s three winners, each of whom received a diploma, a gold Kyoto Prize medal and an endowment of 50 million yen(approximately $600,000) to support his work.Dr. Shinya Yamanaka won in the category of Advanced Technology for developing a technology to generate stem cells without the use of human embryos. Stem cells, as I’m sure you’re aware, are believed to hold great promise for treating human disease and injury. In the Basic Sciences category, the Hungarian mathematician Dr. László Lovász won for his pioneering work with algorithms. Finally, the Kyoto Prize in Arts and Philosophy went to William Kentridge, a visual artist from South Africa.

Year after year, the Kyoto Prizes recognize and celebrate the extraordinary achievements of some remarkable people. To learn more about the prizes, please visit www.kyotoprize.org. Bearing in mind that most people (myself definitely included) lack the gifts and training required to be a scientist, mathematician, philosopher or artist, I would like to share a quote from Dr. Inamori, taken from his best-selling book A Compass to Fulfillment, which I heartily recommend: “Our lives take on their true meanings when we do our best at the ordinary things in life: working hard, being thankful, thinking good thoughts, doing the right thing, practicing self-reflection and self-discipline, refining our minds, and elevating our character in everyday life.”

My colleagues and I at American Airlines certainly hope and intend to accomplish some big things for our customers this year — and executing our joint venture with JAL is near the top of the list. But more important, we are going to remain focused on all the little things that add up to running a good airline on your behalf. While every year brings a few surprises, you can rest assured we’ll be working hard, trying our best to do the right things and to demonstrate how appreciative we are of the meaningful role we play in your lives. Thank you for flying American Airlines. I wish you and yours the very best in 2011.

Gerard J. Arpey
American Airlines