"Braniff Airlines - Splash of Colors" by John J. Nance, Book Review
John J. Nance, a former Braniff pilot and author of this historical documentary, Splash of Colors, details a compelling story about the failure of a long standing, multi-billion dollar airline that once held a position as the eighth largest carrier of the time.
The reader takes a trip back in time to 1928 when Braniff's first president, Tom Braniff, would establish this small regional mail carrier which evolved into passenger transport on a 5-passenger single engine prop aircraft flying out of Oklahoma City, Tulsa and Wichita Falls. Through the years, it would become a major passenger carrier with international routes and a fleet of jets.
On June 20, 1928, a single-engine Stinson Detroiter took off from Oklahoma City on a 116-mile flight to Tulsa. Thus began Braniff Airways, one of the most successful of the independent air carriers started by two Oklahoma City men, Paul Braniff, a World War I aviator, and his brother Tom, an Oklahoma City insurance executive.— Oklahoma Historical Society
The story reveals the tremendous effects unions have on business with demands that drove the push for higher salaries of pilots, ground crews and in-flight personnel adding to the pressure of funds already stretched to the maximum.
The author exposes the success and failures of its subsequent Presidents whose maneuverings and corporate decisions would eventually seal Braniff International Airline's fate and crash the business into bankruptcy.
Harding L. Lawrence
Harding Lawrence, President from 1965 through December 31, 1980, with the rapid expansion of the company found himself fraught with under-qualified executives of junior and senior rank." Referred to as "empty suits" he blamed his "calcified, uncommunicative senior officers in operational, sales and service areas". . . whom he believed "were at least two levels above their maximum level of competence." He attempted to infuse "new, more qualified executive management talent" into the company using headhunters and personnel agencies.
The inner workings of corporate America are exemplified in this story which serves as both an example and a warning of what can happen when power and greed take the reins. The story also details the importance of hiring and training qualified corporate management candidates who have the aptitude and skill level required.
At a time when air travel remained glamorous, Braniff excelled at providing extraordinary meals and flight service in the air. Extravagant paint schemes, designer uniforms, two-for one fares, non-profitable routes, overhead and service contracts in foreign countries, interest on collateral loans, and lack of communication, all played a role in the demise of the airline.
The multi-million dollar expansion of its worldwide headquarters added to the burden of debt and steep overhead. Combined with the number of successors in the role of President and CEO with guaranteed hiring packages and golden parachute deals, the soaring cost thwarted any return to profitability.
Nance writes a compelling account of conversations in board rooms, at interviews, and in management circles which lend the intimacy of practically being in the room. He explains the pitfalls of corporate decisions leading to diminished job enthusiasm and details how fierce competition for recognition led to disregard for employee initiative.
He shares insight into the deadly Jericho memorandums that dramatically tainted employee morale and inspired internal uprisings. He addresses the silos and isolated nature of organizational communication along with the size of the airline and its operation which had increased over 30 percent in a few short months as being key to failure.
He explains the effect of the deregulation of the airlines which brought fierce competition for the same routes spreading the passenger count between different carriers. Planes operating below capacity resulted in lowered profitability. During the same time, fuel costs rose exponentially with fares failing to keep up with the costs of operation. The bottom line suffered the red ink of diminishing revenue paired with inflationary costs of operation.
The book details the inner workings of a corporate board of directors and their role in debt restructuring of capital equipment, the expansion of Braniff into new unproven routes, the purchase of multi-million dollar jets, employee demands for competitive salaries and other factors like dirty tricks played by competitors and reservation agencies.
Traveling deep beyond the newspaper headlines into the realms of corporate sabotage, fierce competition with other airlines, dirty tricks and politics, of multi-million dollar deals gone sour, the story takes the reader on a voyage into the minds and workings of the people who both loved and hated the airline. This true story, in four-hundred plus pages travels into oxygen-thin altitudes, shares white knuckle take-offs and landings, and conveys the devastation that thousands of workers felt when learning their jobs and income vanished overnight.
Despite continued efforts of its dedicated employees and workaholic leaders, the company eventually spiraled out of control into a fatal tailspin in May 1982 after multiple attempts at restructuring failed.
The Braniff tradition of loyalty and family camaraderie continues with former employees posting on its many online social groups with memories, photos and experiences they had while working for this peerless and incomparable airline.
The Golden Age of Aviation
About the Author
Vietnam and Desert Storm Veteran, Dallas born John J. Nance is the author of multiple fiction and non-fiction books with 19 on the New York Times best seller's list. He is a professional speaker, licensed attorney, former pilot and a familiar face on ABC World News and Good Morning America.
This first edition copy of the book, published in 1984, was purchased on eBay with hard-backed copies also available on Amazon through third-party vendors.
© 2018 Peg Cole