1997 Horatio Alger Award Winner
"Get a good education. The more you learn, the more useful you become—to yourself and to society."
Robert Crandall was born in a small community in Rhode Island in 1935. He lived with his parents in a home his father built, situated at the end of a potato field. Although his father was an engineer, during the Depression he worked on government-sponsored construction projects. After World War II, he began to sell insurance, which caused the Crandall family to make several cross-country moves. In fact, Bob Crandall attended 14 schools in 12 years. To help earn his way, he had a paper route and during high school worked in a grocery store.
He attended the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia, on an academic scholarship, and worked as a waiter in one of the historic taverns in town to pay expenses. But after a year he transferred to the University of Rhode Island so that he could be close to his high school sweetheart and future wife, Jan. He earned his degree in business administration and later attended the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School of Business as an Arthur Young scholarship recipient.
Crandall joined the Eastman Kodak company in 1960 as a credit supervisor. Two years later he left to work for Hallmark as a computer programming supervisor. In 1966, he was appointed assistant treasurer for Trans World Airlines (TWA). He later became TWA's vice president for data services and then became vice president and controller. He joined American Airlines in 1973 as senior vice president of finance and quickly rose through the airline's ranks. From 1980 to 1985, he served as American's president and chief operating officer. In 1985, he added the role of chairman and chief executive of both American and its parent company, AMR Corporation. He held those positions until his retirement in 1998.
During his 25 years with American Airlines, Crandall transformed the entire airline industry. He led American to the industry's highest profits through the creation of the first frequent flier program, discount airfares, and cutting-edge reservations systems-innovations that soon became industry standards. The Wall Street Journal named him "the man who changed the way the world flies."
In talking about his management style, Crandall once said, "One of the most important qualities of leadership is to recognize that you use leadership to empower others. It isn't about doing it all yourself, but about involving other people to achieve a shared vision." Crandall credits his parents for instilling in him values that helped him throughout his life. "My parents' values were absolute," he says. "There were no compromises. You told the truth, you did what you said you would do, you lived the straight and narrow, and you did everything as well as you could. I've done well living by those standards. I believe that to be an effective leader you have to have the highest ethical standards."