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Leading lights - Rick Elieson, American Airlines Cargo

Rick was named President – Cargo in March 2017. He oversees the airline’s cargo business, including operations, customer service, marketing, culture, sales and strategy.
Rick was named President – Cargo in March 2017. He oversees the airline’s cargo business, including operations, customer service, marketing, culture, sales and strategy.
Rick joined American in 1994 and began his career on the Japanese desk in American’s DFW reservations office. He has led the organisation in revenue management, digital marketing and AA Vacations. Prior to joining Cargo, he led the company’s global partner marketing and the multi-billion-dollar co-branded credit card business.
Rick holds a bachelor’s degree from Texas A&M in Commerce.
What does a typical day entail in your job?
The first thing I do is catch up on overnight emails, and then I spend some time reading. I like to start my day by seeding my mind with industry news, as well as a few technology blogs which I keep up with.
I get into the office at 08:00 and review my to-do list. Probably like every business, we generate a lot of daily reports, and this is when I get a chance to review them before meetings kick off at 08:30 or 09:00, and usually run back-to-back until 17:00. 
I probably travel 50% of the time and make a point to try and visit with our local sales and operational teams wherever we go. Listening to our team members in the field does a lot to provoke insights about both our business and the culture that we’re fostering. That is something we’re extremely focused on, especially given the amount of change that we’re asking our teams to embrace in response to our technology investments.
It is a hectic pace for sure, but I don’t think it is different to most people’s schedule. Thankfully I get to do it with a team of fun people, who love what they do, and enjoy working together. That team dynamic shows up in positive ways over and over – and it breeds an infectious passion for helping one another succeed. It is a very rewarding thing to be a part of. I hope our customers see it too, and I believe it spills over into great customer service. 
How did you end up in the aviation industry?
I joined the American team on the Japanese reservations desk. My older brother was working for American at the time, and called to tell me that he’d heard they were looking for Japanese speakers. He told me that American was a good company that rewarded bright people who worked hard. I guess he thought I’d fit those criteria.
It’s now been 25 years since I joined American and I am more excited every day. Many people come to the airline because they have a passion for aviation. I confess my path was less intentional, but I am no less passionate about it now. The ability to travel and experience other cultures is a truly incredible opportunity, and moreover, the ability to share that experience and cultivate a global perspective among my family is a gift without equal. 
I am fortunate to have found my way into the cargo business where I continue to learn something new and interesting every day. The impact that air cargo has in making so much possible – from fresh avocados in your local grocery store, to perfect sushi at a local restaurant, to delivering lifesaving medicines in just hours. We get to be a part of people’s lives in very meaningful ways, sometimes even making their lives possible at all.  
How significant is air cargo at American Airlines? 
Air cargo is a significant contributor to the bottom line here at American. We closed 2018 with record performance, volume and revenue. Of course, I’m really pleased with these results, but I am especially encouraged by the progress we’re making for the future in other foundational areas of our business – such as growing our fleet, modernising our technology, investing in our team members, and really listening to and making changes that our customers want. That will pay dividends for years to come and will enable us to deliver a level of service that today requires extraordinary measures.
Clearly, perishables, especially fish, must be a core contribution to the business. What expertise have you gained here? 
We do move a lot of fresh fish. Just a few months ago, we were invited by one of our key customers to Chile to visit a salmon farm and learn first-hand about that business, from breeding, to how they raise the fish, to how they are processed, and how we can best partner with them to protect that investment and improve our services. I learned more in that couple of days than I had by weeks of online reading. 
In general, Latin America is a huge export market for perishables. From fish out of Chile to mangoes in Peru, worldwide demand continues to rise, and new business is popping up everywhere. Once again, we’re coming up on the traditional peak flower season, which is around Valentine’s Day and Mother’s Day, when there will be huge demand on our flights out of Colombia and Ecuador into the US and Europe. Perishables are a product that really benefit from our immense network. >>

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