Jim Olson | Influence 100

James T. Olson

Senior Vice President, Corporate Communications
United Airlines

James Olson joined the beleaguered United Airlines shortly after its new CEO Oscar Munoz pledged to turnaround the airline that has been troubled since its merger with Continental Airlines. While Olson joined from Starbucks — where he had been VP of corporate communications since 2011 — his experience with airlines dates back to 2008 when he joined US Airways as VP of corporate communications. In fact, he led the crisis response to the emergency water landing of US Airways Flight 1549 on the Hudson River. Already, his work communicating Munoz’s first 100 days has been some of the most impressive corporate work the industry has seen in awhile.   

It’s worth noting, United altered the role of the head of communications under the new CEO — Olson’s predecessor reported to the CEO meanwhile he reports to EVP of human resource and labor relations. 

Olson’s corporate communications, digital media and advertising experience also includes WE Communications, TBWA Chiat/ Day, Porter Novelli and Overture, the search marketing subsidiary of Yahoo. He spent most of the first decade of his career to the automotive industry, working with J.D. Power and Associates and Nissan.
Please share a notable career highlight. 
Leading the crisis response to the crash of US Airways Flight 1549 on The Hudson River in 2009.
What is the most rewarding/challenging aspect about a career in communications/marketing?
The opportunity to make a positive difference in the world.

What skills/experience will the CCO of the future need that may not be required today?
Public Policy and Social Impact Strategy.  And by social I mean impact on society (not digital world).

What skill/experience is required of today's CCO that might not be as relevant in the future?
Conventional news writing and media relations skills.

Who or what inspires you to be your best? 
My 10-year-old daughter Kaitlyn and my drive to make the world a better place for her and her family and to set a positive leadership example for her and other up and coming communicators.

What is on your must-read/view/listen to list? 
Hard to pick...but I'm currently reading U.S. Sen. Corey Booker's book "United" - no relation to the airline - just a powerful read on finding common ground and common good in our world.

Most interesting place you've traveled to?
Zanzibar - it's as exotic and intriguing as it sounds!