Company Interview: Delta Air Lines

Company Profile

Company Name:
Delta Air Lines
No. Employee:
1,980 (Asia Pacific, as of 2013)
Delta Air Lines:
David Spence (DS), Regional Director, Finance, Asia Pacific
Morgan Whitmer (MW), Sales Planning Analyst, Asia Pacific (TUJ graduate, class of 2014; Delta intern spring 2013)
TUJ Intern:
Steven Tang (ST), Delta intern fall 2014 - spring 2015, International Business/MIS major from Fox School of Business at Temple University Main Campus
TUJ Interviewer:
William Swinton (WS), Director, International Business Program

WS What does Delta get from having Temple University interns?

DS We get a lot out of it, actually. We've been in the program two and a half years or so and have worked with seven TUJ interns. All of them have been exceptional—hardworking, smart, professional. People you want to have in your office.

We get people who do work, to be honest with you. They come to the office prepared, professional, and they sit down and they do hard work each day. It's great. It's priceless for us because especially in finance, we get a lot of ad hoc work that has to be done from time to time. We can accommodate special projects and additional tasks that we wouldn't be able to do without the interns.

It's been particularly valuable to us in terms of being able to focus on things that ordinarily we wouldn't really have the time to do. So, it's a great value for the company at this point.

WS How prepared the interns have been to work in a professional environment?

DS Very. Morgan can serve as a really good example. She put together an analysis on one of our revenue streams for us and the end result of that data helped shape and make some decisions. And I gave her very little in terms of "here's how you do it." I said, "Figure it out, get it done, you can look it up online and figure out how to run it, here's the data, run with it." So, to that extent, your interns have been well prepared to take on tasks immediately with relatively little guidance.

Steven's another great example. As someone who is very skilled in IT, he can teach me something, which is wonderful. Having someone here like that who can actually help me with some more complicated things is also a benefit.

I would deem them well prepared to interact in the workplace.

WS I guess I should have started with what they do. What kind of tasks do you give them?

DS Right now Steven's main focus is something called a purchase order. The term is deceiving. A purchase order in the Delta finance world is actually a financial control. What we're doing is taking payment data from vendors and sorting that by general ledger, cost center, and tax code. And then we're sorting it by the department that's actually making the submission for payment.

Specifically, what Steven has worked on is taking raw payment data and breaking it down to the General Ledger (GL) level, building a budget for it, submitting that purchase order for creation, and then loading it into SAP. Once it's in SAP, all the payments will be tracked at the GL-level and will kick out anything that exceeds the budget. What he's done during the past semester is to help us build those financial controls at the vendor level, for around 100 vendors. It's invaluable work. It's work I would have had to have done if he wasn't here. So, it was particularly helpful for me and the organization.

WS Can you talk about the interaction that the intern has with your colleagues and your staff?

DS That's probably an area where we treat them like any other staff member. I don't really differentiate that much. I think Steven and Morgan would both tell you I'm a macro manager. I do not look over their shoulders. I just give them their work and know that if they have a question they'll come over. I treat them like a professional, like someone who is already working at the company. That's always been my philosophy with them.

WS What do you look for in the interviews?

DS This isn't a complicated interview because in general I'm talking with young students who haven't had much work experience. So I am basically just looking for fit. I think when I'm looking at their resumes, I look for work experience. McDonald's is fine and I mean that most sincerely. To me, under the age of 22 or 23, the fact that they've taken the initiative to get any job anywhere is, I think, particularly healthy. So I like to see that. Within the interview process, I just kind of look for fit. Steven and Morgan are both fantastic people in addition to professionals, but they are also quite different in terms of their personality. Not good or bad, but both styles fit and their professionalism and work ethic are what made them succeed. So I think that's what I look for in the interview process.

The best part about it is, it's been a struggle at times to make a decision about who I want because there have been so many good candidates who have come to us through TUJ.

WS We want to broaden the use of interns from all universities here in Tokyo, so we're always happy to hear that's happening. This concept of having several months of an internship is something we hope to propagate through Tokyo.

DS Sure. Especially for someone like Morgan (who was hired after her internship), she knew the office environment she was coming into. She was making an educated decision in terms of what her career would be like. She sees a lot of the same people she saw when she was an intern. I think from a practical perspective, you're really helping students understand what they're getting into. It's one thing to study business. It's another to do business. They're getting to see, experience, and interact with real-life business, with real-life people who are doing this for a career. I just think it's a wonderful program that benefits both the company and the students.

WS Steven, you've been here for 8 months now? Can you remember back to your first impressions?

ST Upon arriving at Delta, I was given real work, real experience, and I was doing the same work as any other employee. I thought that was an invaluable experience because there are many ways you can learn, like reading, watching—but I think you learn the most from actually doing it and applying what you learned from school.

At first I thought this internship would be difficult for me because I'm not a finance major. My major is international business with a second major in management of information systems. But I looked at the job description and saw that my skills matched what they were looking for. I decided to give it is shot and I'm certainly glad I did.

WS How would you describe the culture here?

ST Very friendly. I'm quiet and I was told to try to fit in when you're in Japan so I just mimicked what everyone else did. But in between the small chat like ohayo gozaimasu (good morning) and otsukaresama desu (thank you for your hard work), you get to really know your colleagues as people and friends.

WS Morgan, you have done internships and then gone back to school and have now graduated and now you're here. You can give us a sense of the whole picture.

MW Yes, I went through the whole process from start to finish. It was a very interesting journey for sure and it really left me with a lot of invaluable experience, like Dave said. Getting to know coworkers and getting a taste for the office environment, made it easy for me to say yes when I got the offer from Delta. It made me feel like I was getting into something I knew I loved. And I do. I love my job. I really enjoy it here. I enjoy my coworkers and I'm glad to see the tradition continued with Steven in my old role. It's been a really unique experience. I'm glad to see the program continue and if I can do anything from my side to help with interns or help expand the program to other departments, I'd like to help out there as well.

WS What message do you have for future interns?

MW I'd say, don't be afraid to talk to other people in the office. Don't be afraid to jump into things. I've found that a lot of people are really great at explaining things and teaching you something new and you'll learn a lot, not just about the office environment, but also about the company. It's a very interesting company and a lot of interesting things happen here. Take that opportunity to meet people and ask them about what they do so that you can learn about something that you might be interested in doing. As Steven was saying, you may not initially think you are suited for finance, but after talking to people about it, it can really open it up for you.

ST My advice would be similar. When I was first here, I was always just at my computer typing away. But I realized later that everybody is here for a reason and everybody is really talented. So it would be a shame to just sit in your office and not use that resource. I would definitely encourage future interns to be social, reach out for help, make use of Dave's knowledge, make use of Morgan's knowledge. Everybody has really good advice because they've all been through the process. They have a lot of experience and knowledge to give to you.

WS It was also a different experience for you because you were just coming to Tokyo when you started this internship. How did that go for you?

ST It made everything that much more frightening but also that much more exciting. I signed up for a lot when I signed up for Tokyo. I did the study abroad, home stay, internship, and official Temple study abroad blog. I put a lot on my plate. Initially it was very frightening, but you step up to the challenge and sometimes it pays off. It definitely pays off if you put the effort in.

WS Step up to the challenge. That's good advice.

DS I'll key off of two things. Today we had a meeting with Steven and another Delta employee and that meeting was to transition Steven's work to her. Steven is in his 20s, an undergrad right now. This woman is in her late 40s and has been with the company a long time. The work he's doing is real. And what he is transferring is real. It isn't filing and busy work. It's actually work that the company is using. It's a real job in a way.

Steven said it's what you make of it. We've had some interns who just sat there and did the work. One was very, very, very introverted. Even more introverted than Steven. This student did a tremendous job, no complaints. I was delighted with this intern, but this intern didn't take it much beyond that. But I would have that person back in a heartbeat just because of the quality of work. These guys did the same quality of work.

And then there was another intern named Kevin Chu (TUJ graduate, class of 2014; Delta intern, summer 2013). Talk about sucking the marrow out of life! He asked a million questions. It was great because he was so genuine and sincere. He made his time count probably more than anybody. He was not going to miss any opportunity for anything, ever. He asked for career advice, personal advice, business advice. He'd want to come in and talk to me about things in the news. He was terrific.

The message I would give to any new intern is get out of it what you want to. I gave Kevin by far more attention than any other intern because he wanted it. He asked, "Can I spend a day with you and see what you do?" He's the only intern who has asked me that. Sure, why not? So, he sat there with me for the better part of 5 or 6 hours and we did finance together. It was fun.

WS It's interesting. One thing I tell the students is this internship is a rare opportunity to craft their own learning experiences. And I think in different ways they are probably doing that. Everyone has things they need to learn and they figure out how to do that. This environment creates a tremendous opportunity. They report back to me on a regular basis and I can see they sometimes are struggling with the things that differ from what we teach them in the classroom. And that's good.

We can teach general principals, but they're never going to be accurate for absolutely every firm and every environment. So for them to have exposure to this particular reality, I think is a great thing.

DS There are some things with rules that you have to follow. JGAP, GAP, that you have to follow A, B, and C. But there are other ways. If you read Carlos Gohn or read Lee Iacocca, you're going to get two very different examples and both were successful in the same industry. What do you do with that as a business professional? There isn't always one right answer. There are many right answers or many partially right answers out there that you can succeed with. I think that diversity or difference of opinion in what they were taught versus what they experienced is healthy. And that may also point to weaknesses in my own organization or other organizations. If you think you're not weak in some way, you've just started a very quick downhill decline.

WS Do you have any advice for us as a university as to how we could strengthen the interaction or the preparation of the students?

DS You'll laugh at this. A colleague of mine met with Steven and he came over and talked to me afterwards and said, "When are you going to miss with your interns? You always get good ones."

I truly and most sincerely say this to you. Every one of the students you have sent over has just been excellent. Their schedule fits our schedule, their talent fits the skillset we need, so I don't have a lot of feedback about what could be better.

Interview date: Tuesday, April 7, 2014