Trading Success For Significance?

On our way home from holidays a few years ago, my wife picked up the latest Horizon Air magazine. There was an article on page 3, written by Bill Ayer, Chairman of Alaska Air Group, entitled Farewell, Bruce. After reading it, she passed it on to me.

Jeff Pinneo, President and CEO of Alaska Airlines stated that on June 28th, Bruce R. Kennedy, a former CEO, who had spent 40 years of “extraordinary leadership and service” for Alaska Airlines, died when his Cessna 182 crashed near Cashmere, Washington.

Jeff expressed that Bruce was a man of deep character, and that the wise counsel and powerful example that flowed from that character into the organization would be missed. Bill stated that Bruce’s “caring, integrity, resourcefulness, spirit and professionalism were part of [his] essence long before [Alaska Airlines] adopted them as their formal values.”

While reading the article, I was impressed that this man’s character – who this man was on the inside – had influenced and impacted an entire airline culture that will continue affecting others long after his passing.

A Seattle Times reporter, interviewing Bruce after retiring in 1991, quoted Bruce as saying, it is time to trade “success for significance.” From that point on, Bruce devoted himself to Christian missionary work overseas and humanitarian efforts.

He and his wife traveled to China to teach English with the Christian group Educational Services International, and they volunteered with World Relief and sheltered dozens of refugee families in their home.

Quite a choice, eh – success or significance? Undoubtedly, our North American culture is success driven. Usually, success is seen through material eyes – ie. what car I drive, the house I live in, who I associate with, how much money I have in the bank, being on the Who’s Who list, etc. The Bible calls the man who builds bigger barns to house his wealth a “fool,” for what happens to his wealth when his soul is required of him? Jesus said, “What profit is there if a man gains the whole world but loses his own soul?” There are too few people in this world who understand true riches, or who are in touch with the state of their soul.


Bruce Kennedy caught sight of something that most people are blind to. He understood the difference between success and significance. One man said that there will be no success without a successor. Unless one is living their life in such a way as to leave a legacy to another generation, there will be no significance in life. Success is often uni-generational. Unless the “values, vision and mission” are multi-generational in nature, no significance will be left behind.

Values give you character, vision gives you direction, and mission gives you purpose. Einstein wrote, “Try not to become a man of success, but rather, try to become a man of value.”

Where do you connect with values that will leave a legacy of significance? It appears to me, from everything I have read, that Bruce’s values were clearly rooted into a personal experience with God. Wherever he was, whatever he was doing, who he was because of his relationship to God, became the most important thing he desired to leave behind.

Bill Ayer stated that the “little airline that could has flown into significance.” However, that significance was not because of better planes, or because of better trained pilots, but because of better people who carry the legacy of values and character into the next generation.


Castanet Article
Thursday August 23rd, 2007
Oh! Canada! Column