He frowns on long hair, executives who drink at lunch and anybody who isn’t at his desk by 8:30 a.m. sharp. At troubled Eastern Airlines (losses of $21.4 million in the third quarter of 1975 alone), Frank Borman is convinced that such shape-up-or-ship-out policies are needed to keep the Wings of Man from being clipped any more. The board of directors of the nation’s second largest airline agrees. After six turbulent months as president, the Apollo 8 astronaut, who read from the Book of Genesis while orbiting the moon on Christmas Eve 1968, became Eastern’s chief executive officer on Dec. 16.
Although Floyd Hall, who brought Borman into the company in 1970, retains his title as chairman, Borman is now charged with getting Eastern off the ground. Since he has been in the corporate cockpit, the former Air Force test pilot has taken decisive action. More than 3,000 Eastern employees—including 19 vice-presidents—have been axed, paring salaries alone by $45 million. His most important achievement to date, says Borman, was persuading Eastern’s 31,500 employees to agree to a salary freeze in 1976. That included Borman, who earns more than $125,000. “I don’t want to be a candy-ass about this,” he hedges, “but this was not my achievement alone. It’s a team effort. Still, the buck stops with the chief executive officer.”
Of all the former astronauts who have entered the business world, Borman has become far and away the most successful. Before and after his flight to the moon, Borman was selected by Presidents Johnson and Nixon to make several trips abroad as a goodwill ambassador. The West Point graduate later took a crash course in management at the Harvard Business School and flirted briefly with the notion of following Ohio Senator John Glenn into politics. (Borman is a conservative Republican.)
When Eastern offered him a vice-presidency in 1970, however, Borman jumped at the opportunity. As Eastern’s new advertising slogan goes, Borman found himself in “the right time and the right place.” Among other things, Borman initiated “friendliness” classes for the 9,000 Eastern employees who deal with the public and improved the company’s baggage handling. Proving himself a tough executive, he was promoted to executive vice-president in 1974, and president last July. Says Borman, who lives with wife Susan in Coral Gables while their West Point graduate sons Frederick, 24, and Edwin, 22, are serving in the Army: “I like the work. I like the people. I love the challenges.”
With fewer passengers and greatly increased fuel costs, the whole airline industry took a nose dive in 1975. At Eastern the difficulties were compounded by a crash last June at Kennedy airport that killed 113 people—the worst single plane disaster in U.S. history.
To recover from Eastern’s corporate tailspin, Borman is counting on his austerity program and an executive team that is lean and mean. Borrowing a term from his days at Cape Canaveral, he says: “My job is to keep things moving—like an afterburner for Eastern.”