Or, How A Guitar Cost United Airlines $180 Million
You’ve got to love irony… especially when it’s mixed with Stubris (a term coined by our own Alan Speakman which he defines as is an act of stupidity-fueled hubris).
It’s the mixture that causes the mighty to be humbled; the undefeated to suffer an unexpected humiliating loss.
It’s Barack Obama with his insistence that whether “we the people” want something, if it’s his will, it shall be done.
It’s the hubris of John Edwards, Rod Blagojevich, Mike Tyson, Gary Hart, Mel Gibson all discovering they are not infallable although they’ve lived their lives as if they were. In each case, their “stubris” has cost them dearly.
The corporate world has also had its share of embarrassing losses, the result of lawsuits (W R Grace) or simply bad management (Digital Equipment Corporation) all stemming from, that’s right, stubris. But seldom has a huge corporation been humbled in such a wide-spread public manner by a single customer who simply wanted them to do the right thing. Until now.
United Airlines, meet your biggest headache: Dave Carroll and his $3,500 guitar that has (so far) cost you $180 million.
I’m writing about his story, because I think it’s a metaphor for what even a single individual who is in the right can do if he has conviction (and, in Dave’s case, a good sense of humor and fantastic songwriting skills). The results can change an entire industry, an entire nation, or the entire world.
If you’re a regular here at Grand Rants, you’ve undoubtedly seen our coverage of how United Airlines damaged Carroll’s $3,500 Taylor Guitar and then steadfastly refused to accept responsibility for the repairs. For the benefit of our new readers, however, you can find Stoutcat’s articles here and here. Go ahead and take a look. It’s well worth it, and we’ll wait…
OK. Now that we’re all up to speed, Carroll, part of a Canadian country band called “Sons of Maxwell,” simply wanted United Airlines to pay the $1,200 to repair his $3,500 Taylor guitar which was damaged by grossly negligent baggage handling. United decided to pass on the opportunity to “do the right thing” in an attempt to avoid paying for the guitar’s repair.
Dave tried working with United. Honest he did. And when their final answer was, in effect, “Sorry, you’re just out of luck,” he decided to write three songs and post them on Youtube (the second of three has just been posted). If there had been an iota of intelligence in the upper level management at United, they’d have sent Dave a check with some roses with a note that said, “You had me at ‘Youtube’.”
Since posting the original song, “United Breaks Guitars” it’s been viewed by millions of people… people who fly and will now think twice about choosing United.
But the biggest impact is that as Dave’s video “went viral” on the Internet and United got inundated with calls from angry consumers, a not-so-funny thing happened to their stock: It plunged in value by 10%. The net loss to United’s stockholders totaled $180 million according to an article in The London Times. And it could have been avoided by simply doing the right thing.
The metaphor is this: Given a chance, big government or big corporate management will usually choose to do what’s in their own best interest, regardless of the impact to the consumer/constituent.
The simple solution for citizens and consumers is, “Don’t let them get away with it.” And you accomplish this by making every effort to work within the established guidelines . When you’ve exhausted all efforts and are still not satisfied with the results — and if you’re still convinced you are in the right — then it’s time to do things in a creative manner. Sometimes this can be done within the law, but sometimes it requires the guts to perform civil disobedience in order to accomplish something for the greater good.
Think of what a single young man accomplished in Tiananmen square 20 years ago, facing down a tank in an act the world would largely note and long remember.
Over one million people had come to mourn the death of pro-market, pro-democracy, and anti-corruption official, Hu Yaobang and to protest the government’s dismissal of Yaobang. The group protest led mostly by students and intellectuals, eventually resulted in a government crackdown on public demonstrations. This, in turn, resulted in hundreds of deaths.
Suddenly, the unknown man took a stand in front of a line of tanks. When the tanks tried to go around him, he shifted his position to block them again. Eventually, the man left the area never to be seen again. But in that moment, he defined the power of what one man can do.
Think of Rosa Parks, revered as the mother of the modern day civil rights movement. “Tired of giving in” to racist demands that blacks move to the back of the bus, on December 1, 1955, she simply decided enough was enough and she would not give up her seat to a white person as ordered by the bus driver. For her efforts, she was arrested. She wasn’t the first black person to refuse, but she was secretary of the Montgomery Alabama chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (although she maintained that she took this action as a private citizen). Her arrest sparked the Montgomery Bus Boycott which was, in part, organized by a young minister named Martin Luther King Jr. And from this incident, by a lone black woman who had the guts to stand up for “the right thing,” a nation would be forced to examine its own behavior towards a major sector of its citizens. The Civil Rights era was born.
Think of John Walsh, a doting father of a precious 6 year-old son who was abducted and brutally murdered by a pedophile. After discovering the hard way that America had no organized approach to the problem, rather than letting his son become just another statistic, he dedicated himself towards addressing the lack of child protection legislation nationally. Through his efforts, there are hundreds of child-protection laws nationally and federally that, while not perfect, go a long way towards making this a safer country for children to grow up in. Most states now require stringent background requests for workers who have any contact with children. Walsh secured the federal funding to start the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children in Washington, DC, and for over 20 years has been the host of Fox network’s “America’s Most Wanted.” I was honored to work with John for several years and can say from personal experience, he is the epitome of what one man can accomplish when he puts his mind to it.
Think of Erin Brockovich who, despite the lack of a formal law school education, was instrumental in constructing a case against the Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E) of California in 1993. Her story was an inspiration to what the spirit of one determined person can accomplish to protect her community against the poisoning of the public water supply by an indifferent corporation. Her efforts led to a $333 million settlement which is, to date, the largest settlement in US history for a direct-action lawsuit.
And it’s not just limited to certain people or specific causes. It’s all of us who need to be Rosa Parks, John Walsh, Erin Brockovich, the Tiananmen Square “tank man” and, yes, even Dave Carroll in this world today. It’s that spirit that makes America the greatest place to live.
We’ve seen the power of their commitment and what it can bring. It should be no surprise when you think back to what a bunch of colonists did when they were unhappy with England’s taxation without representation.
And that’s why those of us opposed to President Obama’s attempted takeover/makeover of democracy and the free enterprise system do what we do. We stand up for what is right; we speak out for what is right.
And that is why we will win.