How to Grab a Dead Company’s Goodwill

JAMAICA, NY – The recent renovation of the Eero Saarinen-designed TWA Flight Center, now known as T5, was a true passing of the torch, as Ruth Richter Holden, daughter of TWA co-founder Paul Richter, flew her restored Lockheed Electra into JFK Airport for the dedication ceremony.

Ruth Richter Holden, quite an amazing woman, bought the old TWA plane with another former TWA pilot, and flew it across the country to appear at the recent dedication. In the video above, you see how the interaction played out between David Barger, JetBlue’s CEO, and Ruth Holden. In the video, Barger commends the support he got from TWA’s former employees.

“I feel like we are just handing you a gift,” says Holden in the video to Barger. “You acknowledge it and appreciate it.”

Barger wondered aloud if he was allowed to accept that goodwill, knowing that giving out “blue chips and Cokes at 35,000 feet” was not as glamorous and exciting as TWA’s Ambassador class, with its meals on china. He wondered how that step down felt to the people who worked for both TWA and JetBlue. But what he found out was that the employees were professionals first, and realized that it was the personal interaction between passenger and in flight that was the key.

JetBlue certainly incurred extra costs in renovating the TWA Flight Center. But it gained a type of goodwill that cannot be bought. And in taking the next step and inviting former TWA employees to the ribbon cutting, he healed many bad feelings. Feelings that he did not even create.

Time heals past problems. TWA had its share of them, including accidents, hijackings, poor service and bankruptcy. But there was something great there too. With time, people tend to forget the bad stuff, and remember the good. At the ceremony, JetBlue skimmed all the good stuff off from another company, brought it into the present, and left the bad stuff as history.

“They were abused and battered and beaten through the years, and they never lost that spirit,” said Holden.

Use Past Goodwill

Harnessing goodwill is not just a lesson for airlines. It works for any company. It is simple. Just honor the folks who have come before.

And you don’t have to renovate a terminal for nearly a billion dollars to make it happen.

It might be that an old person stops by your store, and tells you that they worked in the building 40 years ago. Take a moment, and hear them out. Or it could be that your company is coming up on a 50th anniversary. Take the time to call up old employees and founders, and have a celebration. While it seems to be a past-looking deed, it is actually quite forward thinking, as it builds word of mouth. It mends.

Universities and non-profits do it all the time to spur donations. They invite the descendants of founding families, and re-establish connections between products and generations. One could argue that if Exxon had, over the generations, kept better relations with the younger generations of Rockefellers, not only would the company have been spared a major proxy fight, but it would have had some allies in powerful circles. Instead, they treat them as ne’er do wells. Which some might be, but that is beside the point.

If your branded product has been around for awhile, dust off the archives, and find out what was great about it. Call up some older employees, or spend extra time at a retirement ceremony. Listen. Not only is it fun, you can learn ALOT from past successes and mistakes. It’s a lot cheaper than hiring a big-time consulting firm, and sometimes more instructive.


  • Garland Pollard

    J. Garland Pollard IV is editor/publisher of BrandlandUSA. Since 2006, the website has chronicled the history and business of America’s great brands.

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