United Airlines CFO talks business with students

John Rainey
John Rainey
By Brooks Whitehurst

John Rainey, executive vice president and chief financial officer of United Airlines, spoke on campus Wednesday night on the airline industry and principles of leadership that lead him to success.

Rainey is a Baylor graduate who received a bachelor’s in business management in 1993 and a master’s in business administration in 1995.

Rainey spoke to students about what he calls “values based leadership,” the attributes of leaders that make them successful and worth following.

Authenticity, Rainey said, is one of the most important values.

“You can’t measure yourself by the yardstick of someone else’s success,” Rainey said, explaining that authentic leaders ultimately don’t try and be someone else.

“People will flock to authentic leaders,” he said.

Along with authenticity, Rainey further explained that success in leadership and in life comes from self-evaluation, humility, servant-based leadership and always having a good attitude.

“There is nothing in the business world so repelling as arrogance,” he said.

Rainey put each value into perspective with stories from his own career from his time at Baylor all the way to becoming the CFO of a fortune 100 company.

Rainey said one thing he strives for in his own leadership roles is commitment from his employees, something he said is only achievable with values-based leadership.

“When you practice values-based leadership, you get commitment instead of just compliance,” Rainey said.

First lady Alice Starr attended the lecture and said that Rainey was a prime example of the kind of leaders that Baylor wants to produce.

“He’s humble and appreciates what he’s been given by God,” Starr said. “He wants to make the world a better place, and we want graduates to care about others and help make the world a better place.”

Starr said she thought the most important things for students to learn from Rainey were a value for humility and leading a balanced life.

“You have to treat others with dignity, which he learned along the way,” Starr said. “You don’t start out that way, but you learn along the way.”

In the latter half of his presentation, Rainey’s values-based leadership took a motivational approach, urging students to have a “can-do” attitude.

“Attitude is everything,” Rainey said. “The person who says he can and the person who says he can’t are both right. The question is: which one are you?”

Rainey encouraged students to make the most of their time in college by giving themselves whole-heartedly to their classes.

“My biggest regret in college is that I didn’t learn more,” Rainey said. “Your grades matter for your first job, but after that all that matters is what you’ve retained.”

Rainey ended his presentation exhorting students with a quote from President Woodrow Wilson:
“You are not here merely to make a living. You are here in order to enable the world to live more amply, with greater vision, with a finer spirit of hope and achievement. You are here to enrich the world, and you impoverish yourself if you forget the errand.”