The model CEO: Haruka Nishimatsu

Leading by example is a core expectation of any person given the privileged role of Chief Executive Officer. Not only is it a position of significant authority, it sets a tone, direction and culture for the whole organisation, no matter how large.

So if I asked you to paint a picture of a typical CEO of an airline company, you’d probably picture a smartly dressed man (as there are very few female CEOs of airline companies) armed with a briefcase and mobile phone, preparing to board his private jet.

Well, you are partly right…enter Haruka Nishimatsu, the CEO of Japan Airlines (JAL). Following financial difficulties, JAL had no choice but to cut jobs and ask some of their older employees to retire early. Nishimatsu refused to sit quietly while his co-workers were going through the pain of restructuring. He decided of his own will to cut all of his own benefits and reduce his own pay for three years running; he currently earns less than some of his most experienced pilots.

He is a CEO who lives and breathes modesty. Some fascinating facts about Nishimatsu:

  • He takes the bus to work (no private chauffeurs for this CEO).
  • He knocked down the walls in his office so that he could share his workspace with his co-workers.
  • He queues up and eats his lunch in the canteen with his fellow colleagues.
  • He buys his suits from a discount store

The most amazing thing about Nishimatsu is that when asked about his motives, he brushes it off as simply the right thing to do.

He talks about some of his colleagues who lost their jobs in the restructure:

“the employees who took early retirement are the same generation and age as me, I thought I should share the pain with them, so I changed my salary.”

We hear stories about greedy CEOs all of the time; this story serves as a simple reminder of the existence of strong and empathetic leaders.


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