CEO Of The People

President and CEO of Japan Air Haruka Nishimatsu eats in the office cafeteria, takes the bus to work, and even gave himself a pay cut. CBS

There's a lot of resentment these days against executive compensation and all the perks taken by corporate heads.

When the Big Three automakers' CEOs came to Congress begging for a bailout, they got a lecture for arriving in their private jets.

CBS News correspondent Barry Petersen says maybe they could learn something from the boss of Japan Airlines, Haruka Nishimatsu, who takes the bus to work.

Merrill Lynch CEO John Thain spent more than a million dollars decorating his office. But Nishimatsu knocked down his office walls so people can walk up and talk to him, and he works from a desk with an old-fashioned wooden in-and-out box.

There is a rationale to his anti-"corporate perk" lifestyle. It's about his employees.

"There's no one person being on top," he told us, "and one person being on bottom, in an organization such as ours."

Got an idea? Tell him at lunch in the company cafeteria because he wants people to share.

"I go there," Nishimatsu said, "to raise morale and motivation."

And he motivates one-on-one, regularly popping into planes, chatting with flight attendants, even helping sort the newspapers.

"I'd like to just find what is going on at the front line," he said.

All CEOs say that service is important, but Nishimatsu goes a step beyond. He says that if you're having a bad experience, don't get angry with the people you're dealing with … blame the person in charge.

And the person in charge here walks the walk.

"That flight boarded early," he says to a supervisor. "That's good."

For running the world's 10th largest airline Nishimatsu doesn't make millions. One year his pay was $90,000 because when he had to cut salaries, he also cut his own.

"My wife said, 'What?!" he laughed.

Does it work?

"Yes," he said. "The company is doing better, and so are its people."

A maintenance chief at the airline told us, "I always thought a CEO was above us in the clouds, but we're able to talk with him directly."

These days all airlines are struggling. Even at reliably profitable Southwest it's time to tighten belts.

"It will not work if leaders treat themselves one way and employees another way," said Southwest's CEO Gary Kelly.

How does Nishimatsu treat himself? How about buying his suits at a discount store - wearing Armani, he says, puts his people at arms-length.

"I feel close to him," says flight attendant Akiko Isobe. "It's encouraging."

America's super-rich CEOs are now under pressure to be a lot more like Nishimatsu and other Japanese CEOs who don't make the big bucks or get the fancy perks, and whose philosophy is simple: A boss is in the same boat as his people. Either you share the work and sacrifice together, or the company may sink in this economic storm.

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