Summary of From Worst to First

Behind the Scenes of Continental's Remarkable Comeback

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From Worst to First book summary
Gordon Bethune turned Continental Airlines around, thus creating a profitable business and a pretty good case study in transformational management.


9 Overall

9 Applicability

8 Innovation

10 Style


With literary assistance from journalist Scott Huler, Continental Airlines CEO Gordon Bethune describes how he transformed the near-bankrupt airline into one of the best companies in the industry. He describes the massive changes he made to improve the product, changing a low-cost, unreliable airline to a top competitor that emphasizes customer service. The transformations he brought about by exerting strong leadership reshaped financial controls and employee-supplier-creditor relationships. The book is a fascinating read, written in a straightforward, this-is-how-it-was style, typified by Bethune’s characterization of the company he took over as a "crappy" or "lousy" airline with terrible service. Sometimes he gets a little repetitious in summarizing the action at each new step in the transformation, but that’s just a minor complaint about an otherwise excellent book. The next time you are booked on a long flight, getabstract suggests a little related reading material: Bethune’s exemplary book.

In this summary, you will learn

  • How Gordon Bethune turned Continental Airlines around
  • Which four steps he implemented first
  • How he improved Continental’s employee and customer relations


Why Was Continental So Bad?
Gordon Bethune left his post as an executive in operations at Boeing in February 1994 to become the president and chief operating officer of Continental Airlines. The airline was in terrible shape, worst among the U.S.’s 10 biggest airlines as assessed by several...
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About the Authors

Gordon Bethune is chairman and CEO of Continental Airlines. Prior to joining Continental, he was vice president and general manager of customer service at Boeing. Scott Huler is a journalist who writes for The New York Times, The Washington Post and The Los Angeles Times.

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