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The Man Who Loved the Seagulls
January | 2014


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Courageous Leadership

The Man Who Loved the Seagulls

The story is too improbable to believe. An American war hero, entrepreneur, airline pioneer, racecar driver and CEO of Eastern Airlines. He tempted death many times and and in one of his most desperate moments, he was saved by a friendly sea gull.

Eddie Rickenbacker was born in 1890 to immigrant parents in Columbus, Ohio. When his father

died when he was 13, he discovered a penchant for machinery. And in the early 1900ís that meant a love affair with the new fangled horseless carriage. Rickenbacker was working for a car company and it wasnít long after that he developed the skills to be an early Indianapolis 500 race car driver.

At the start of the Great War, Rickenbacker enlisted and upon arriving in England was assigned to an aeronautics squadron where he eventually became a fighter ace earning the U.S. Medal of Honor.

Between the wars, Rickenbacker built his own little transportation empire by establishing a car company and eventually buying the Indianapolis Speedway.

Although his car company failed, he went and worked for General Motors and Cadillac as an auto executive. Soon he was onto other industries and was asked to head up the the operations of Eastern Airlines, where he brought many improvements and was one of the first people to demonstrate that airlines could be run as a profitable entity.

Rickenbacker did not like to use the word "safe" in connection to passenger flying and preferred the word "reliable". Perhaps that was because of his own experiences in airplanes. In 1941 Eddie was flying to Atlanta on business in one of the company's commercial planes when it went down in a crash. He suffered grave injuries but was able to encourage others to get out of the plane and seek help. He was so injured that when he was taken to the hospital the doctors and nurses thought he was dead and triaged others ahead of him even though his injuries were so much worse. It took months for him to recover from the crash.

With the onset of WW II, Rickenbacker supported the war as a civilian and provided public relations services for the Army. In October, 1942, just 18 months after the Eastern plane crash, Rickenbacker was sent on a public relations trip to the Pacific theater of war. In

addition to that part of the mission, he was also given a secret message to deliver to General Douglas McArthur. While travelling on a B-17 bomber, the plane veered hundreds of miles off course and was forced to ditch in the ocean. For the next 22 days, Rickenbacker and the crew lived in life rafts. Eddie took charge of the rescue mission by encouraging, cajoling and even demanding his fellow survivors to go on for one more day.

But it was the sea gull that created, perhaps, his greatest legend. The survivors had only 3 days of food. On the eighth day while Rickenbacker was lying exhausted in the raft, a sea gull landed on his head. Moving cautiously, Rickenbacker was able to capture the sea gull with his hat. He divided

the food from the gull among those in the life raft and then used some of it as bait to catch fish to feed the crew. That action sustained everyone for another two weeks until a Navy seaplane rescued them. Amazingly, Rickenbacker went on to deliver his secret message to McArthur.

Throughout his life, Eddie Rickenbacker He set seemingly impossible goals and then went out and achieved them through perseverance and fortitude.

I've always believed that persistence is one of my greatest strengths and while I'm pretty sure I wouldn't have the fortitude of Rickenbacker, my lesson from his experiences clearly point out that focusing and refocusing on the mission at hand will eventually lead to success.

 

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TED Talks

During our holiday family get together a few weeks ago, I noticed that at one point during dinner, everyone was on their cell phone. Conversations seemed to be going on, but were they really? Paoli Cardini suggests that there could be some great benefits to monotasking rather than trying to multitask. Check out his novel ideas for your smartphone in his short presentation.

 

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