Delta Air Lines VP discusses how students may transition from the classroom to corporate America, reveals best leadership practices during COVID-19

Shawn Cole, vice president of global sales at Delta Air Lines, shared his involvement in corporate America and offered advice to Elon business students on how to best prepare for their upcoming careers.

Martha and Spencer Love School of Business students engaged with Shawn Cole, vice president of global sales at Delta Air Lines, during the Lessons from Leaders event to help prepare themselves for the transition from the classroom to corporate America.

VP of Global Sales at Delta Air Lines Shawn Cole
VP of Global Sales at Delta Air Lines Shawn Cole

Students currently taking the Strategic Management course studied Delta Air Lines and the airline industry as a whole to understand the strategic challenges of the industry. Cole, who prior to joining Delta held several positions at Coca-Cola Enterprises, Inc., offered specific comments on how Delta has managed the upheaval brought on by COVID.

“The key thing in a crisis is communication,” Cole said during the April 1 event. He shared it has been crucial for him to communicate with his team, first to let people know that he supports them, and second, so that everyone can work together to form a plan.

Cole’s team at Delta had to decide what was most important during the crisis. Delta immediately prioritized the safety of its employees and passengers, implemented social distancing and preserved its cash. Through open and effective communication, Delta was able to take immediate action on these changes while keeping its customers and employees informed. Now, as the market for both business and leisure travel is returning, Delta is well-positioned to regain their profitable position in the industry.

Beyond asking about strategic management at Delta, students sought Cole’s advice on how to transition from school to the professional workplace in order to get the best starting experiences. Cole shared three tips for a successful career in the corporate world. First, successful employees must first succeed in the roles they have before they will be considered for new roles. Reflecting on his first position as an accountant, Cole said, “I’m here to get results. I was hired to be an accountant, so I will be the best accountant I can.”

Once he gained the reputation of delivering results in his job, he was quickly considered for positions with greater responsibility.

Second, successful employees strive to make the people around them better, whether it’s those in positions above or below them in the hierarchy. It is crucial to take the positive position of helping all succeed rather than a competitive position where only you succeed, he explained. Being one who helps others “will make peers want to either work with you or help you advance.”

Finally, “surround yourself with mentors and other people who will give you honest feedback,” Cole stated.

He motivated students to seek feedback from peers in the workplace, which will help them to continuously improve. He also recommended students seek out peers whom they consider to be successful and ask them about their experiences or best practices.

Cole concluded his visit with Elon business students by challenging them to use their business knowledge to help lead positive and socially just solutions to the difficult trials of today.