Neeleman's Flight Plan

This is a partial transcript from "Your World with Neil Cavuto," October 24, 2006, that was edited for clarity.

NEIL CAVUTO, HOST: Meanwhile, this fellow operates one of the most successful airlines on the planet — talk about putting up good numbers. He is also one of the lowest paid CEOs, in terms of salary, in the industry. And he donates that salary to the workers who need it. Is it time for other executives to follow his lead?

With us now is the CEO of JetBlue (JetBlue's earnings were flat in the latest quarter, revenue up 39 percent, a tad better than estimates. But the company's margins have improved over the last year.

David, good to have you.


CAVUTO: I thought of you when — front and center on — on CEO pay and backdating options and all this stuff. You're not guilty of any of those sins, not that getting a lot of money is a sin, but...

NEELEMAN: I don't get options.

CAVUTO: All right.

NEELEMAN: I have never accepted them.

CAVUTO: That's right.

Explain to me why you decided not to do that.

NEELEMAN: Well, at one time, I owned 100 percent of the company. And, then, as we brought on new investors, I just thought I had a lot of shares. And our — and our investors said, you can only have a certain percentage of the company as — as options. And I thought, why would I — if I took some options, it would take it away from someone else.

And I had plenty of shares. So, I thought it would be hoggish to — to take options, in addition to the shares I already had.

CAVUTO: But you get cash performance bonuses, right?


CAVUTO: Something akin to that?

NEELEMAN: Yes. I get — my salary is $200,000 a year, which, as you mentioned, I donate to our — our crisis fund for our — for our crew members. And then I get a $75,000 bonus if we make profit. I didn't get it last year. And, hopefully, I will — I will get it this year. But I will probably done that, too.

So, you know, it's not a big performance...


CAVUTO: We should step back. You know, you are a multimillionaire here. So, you're not poor doing this. But — but, again, everything is based on performance, right?

And — and you don't do any of the tricky accounting stuff with options and backdating them. So, that was by design very early on.

The fact that so few companies seem to have followed that lead, what do you make of that?

NEELEMAN: Yes, it is disturbing, obviously. You know, I — it was funny, because we were in a board meeting, and our board asked, did — you know, have — have you backdated any stock options? And I said, I don't know you could even do that.


NEELEMAN: You know, I didn't know it was even lawful. And we would not have done it anyways. But...

CAVUTO: What do you think? Now we have got 30-plus CEOs who have had to resign, doing just that.

NEELEMAN: Well, I think they should.

I mean, I — what — basically, what they did is, they stole money from their shareholders. And they — they gave — you know, they basically looked in a crystal ball and said: When is the lowest price? And I will price them at.

It — yes, it's really something that was wrong. And they should not have done it. And they — they need to be held accountable for what they did.

CAVUTO: Do you think those guys should go to jail who did that?

NEELEMAN: You know, I don't — I'm not sure about going to jail. And I'm not sure of the circumstances. You know, that is a tough thing to put on anybody.

But, you know, obviously, whenever you — you backdate stock options to a lower price, it's — it is not right. And it shouldn't have been done.

CAVUTO: Certainly not honest.

Let's talk a little bit about you. I mean, your planes are full. Airports are busy. Things are humming. It looks pretty good out there.

NEELEMAN: It does.

We — we had a little bit of a slowdown right after August 10.

CAVUTO: Right.

NEELEMAN: Between August 10 and — and the end of September, we estimate we lost about $9 million to $10 million of revenue, just from people a little nervous about traveling, and the unexpected at the airport. And once the TSA...

CAVUTO: When there was the flying scare that there was a terror attack...



And then they came out with the one core bag that you could put some liquids in there and go through the security checkpoint. That helped a lot.

So, business is — is doing well. We're headed to the fourth quarter. We just upped our guidance from what we expected to do. And, you know, we're kind of crossing our fingers. We — we lost $47 million in the first quarter. And we have been trying to dig out of that hole. And we — we have got a good chance of making money this year, of making up all that because of how things are going...


CAVUTO: But a lot of your success really depends on oil prices, right? If they stabilize or come down, great. If they don't, not great.

NEELEMAN: Yes. Yes. It's — obviously, we're won't beholden to the — we have done a lot of things with our costs, other than fuel. We are being helped.

Ironically, in the third quarter, we had to mark to market all of our hedges.

CAVUTO: Right.

NEELEMAN: So, it actually cost us about $7 million out of period.

But, in the fourth quarter, prices are down now, and — and business is good. So, you know, we — we have our fingers crossed, and we're hoping that oil prices stay low.

CAVUTO: And you got high marks for clean airplanes. Apparently, a lot of planes, because they're so dirty and traveled so frequently, they are dirty.


CAVUTO: Yours are apparently immaculate.

NEELEMAN: I clean them myself.

CAVUTO: You clean them.

Actually, you do. You serve customers on the plane, don't you?

NEELEMAN: Yes. In fact, I went to — to Dyson vacuum, and I got them to design a vacuum that we could use on our airplanes that was cordless...


NEELEMAN: ... because cleanliness is such an important part of what we do. And they — they did it. And we are going to be launching here pretty soon.

CAVUTO: There you go.

David Neeleman, JetBlue, always good seeing you. Congratulations.

NEELEMAN: Thank you. Thanks, Neil.

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