ATO’s COO David Grizzle Announces he plans to Leave in December

Part Two: The Person

Dave Grizzle pic, at conference tableMr. Grizzle came to FAA from the airlines, though not as directly as most do. In fact, his career included a sabbatical from Continental that lasted more than a year, during which he served as a transportation expert in Afghanistan. More about that below; here’s his earlier work history…

SEC filings and other online records show Mr. Grizzle has had a long airline career, starting with being Legal Counsel at New York Air in 1984. He joined Continental with the 1987 merger, served a variety of positions including VP of Alliance Development from April 1995 until November 1996, then Senior VP for Corporate Development, starting in November 1996. He also served for years on the Board of Expressjet, one of the largest ‘regional carriers’ spun off from the airlines.

At Continental, the top dog was CEO Gordon Bethune until his retirement in 2004. During the shuffling to identify the next leadership at Continental, Mr. Grizzle took a corporate leave of absence. He was dispatched by the U.S. State Department and served as an aide in Afghanistan, with expertise on transportation issues. He could have just passed his time but he chose to do more. For example, he coordinated the delivery of tons of textbooks, collected by a U.S. school, for use by an Afghan women’s education program. During his fifteen months there, from September 2004 until December 2005, he also created an interesting blog, where he regularly collected his thoughts and experiences. Here’s the link:

Kabul Corporate Monk —
“Observations on life by one who has contemplatively left his corporate comfort zone in order to
serve God and America in Kabul”

The text under the blog title accurately reflects Mr. Grizzle’s spirituality, and his work and values were covered in articles and interviews within the Christian media. But, after his time in Kabul, Mr. Grizzle returned to ‘the comfort zone’. He resumed his Continental career, serving as Senior VP of Customer Experience, and then as Senior VP of Government Affairs. He finally retired from Continental in 2008, shortly before becoming the top lawyer at FAA.

Fri Aug 1, 2008 1:05pm EDT
HOUSTON, /PRNewswire-FirstCall/ —

Continental Airlines (NYSE: CAL) announced today that its senior vice president customer experience, David Grizzle, 54, has informed the company that he has decided to retire effective Sept. 19, 2008 to pursue other commercial and charitable activities.
“David has been a dedicated and valued member of our senior management team during his 23 years at Continental,” said Larry Kellner, Continental’s chairman and chief executive officer. “He has contributed greatly to our airline by focusing on the customer and using creativity to resolve issues. We will miss him, and wish him well in this next phase of his career.”
Grizzle has held various positions during his tenure at Continental. He has served as senior vice president of marketing strategy and corporate development and was vice president of legal and corporate affairs for Texas Air Corporation, the former parent company of Continental. He joined New York Airlines (which later merged with Continental Airlines) in 1984 as vice president of administration and general counsel. During a leave of absence from Continental in late 2004 and 2005, Grizzle served in Afghanistan as transportation and infrastructure coordinator for the U.S. Department of State.
“No airline has a more consistent and methodical commitment than Continental to improve the customer experience, and that focus will continue and expand long after my departure,” said Grizzle.
Grizzle will continue to serve as senior vice president customer experience until the effective date of his retirement.
SOURCE Continental Airlines

Mr. Grizzle’s entire career at Continental shows he was a key executive involved in the three biggest airline restructuring strategies of recent times:

  1. the spin-offs of air service to smaller, regional carriers (with the loss of accountability, as became apparent with the Buffalo crash by Colgan under Continental)
  2. the repeated use of bankruptcy law to undermine labor contracts and pension obligations, while tilling the soil for the next round of airline mergers;
  3. and, mega-mergers between the airlines, such as the current American – USAir merger (yes, that merger; the first one that is actually being challenged by the Department of Justice!).

Of course, 2008 was also the year that Obama was elected, and in no small part due to his relationship with labor. Randy Babbitt (with a deep background as a pilot for Eastern Airlines and as a leader in ALPA, the large pilot’s union) was then selected to be FAA Administrator, and he in turn selected Grizzle to become FAA’s Chief Counsel in June 2009. When Hank Krakowski had to step down in the wake of the rash of sleeping controller incidents, Mr. Grizzle was made acting ATO COO in April 2011.  His appointment was made permanent, as announced on July 7, 2011. Now, two years later, he says he is ready to move on.

And what of his character? An online search suggests a man of deep faith and loyalty, but with a contemplative side (which perhaps gives him plenty of reason to practice his faith). In the April 2006 conversation with Dale Hanson Bourke at, he exudes pride and satisfaction for being an airline executive who sets an example, helping others to know they can be open about their faith while working for the airline. But, in the same conversation he also comments: “…business can produce a hardness of heart because of the competitiveness and relentlessness of business…” and “…whenever I have fired people, I have always done it with a great concern for them and awareness that the tough act I was taking was probably one of the best events that could occur to the person….” Interesting mixture of hard and soft; it does not appear likely that Mr. Grizzle has ever been wrongfully fired as a Whistleblower.

At less than a year into his time as the top lawyer at FAA, Mr. Grizzle was interviewed by Laurie Zugay, of the FAA Managers Association (FAAMA). The seven-page article, ‘Leading on the Wings of Justice’ [link to PDF], covers a wide range of issues and is remarkably candid. When asked about Whistleblowers, Mr. Grizzle said his office wants to help managers “…to identify when one of their employees is beginning to feel left out. We will try to teach them how to find a way to bring employees back into the fold so that they can be heard without entering the official whistleblower process.” Of course, most actual Whistleblowers would find this shockingly naive; nearly always, the manager — more than anyone else — is the one creating the hostile work environment that causes the Whistleblower to ‘feel left out’.

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Here are a few links to a series of articles, interviews … and more:

October 2011: David Grizzle & Rick DuCharme, at the FAAMA annual conference in Las Vegas, ‘A Gathering of Eagles’