A Yankee Preacher in the Pilot's Seat

People Express Founder Donald Burr gives his workers freedom but also sermons on doing better

When Donald Burr was in high school, he told everyone he wanted to become a clergyman. Growing up in the 1950s in the tidy town of South Windsor, Conn., the boy saw his local Congregational church as the most admirable kind of organization. It was free and feisty, yet disciplined in its work. Burr instead embarked on a career that led him to found a free and feisty airline, People Express.

As a manager, Burr has a penchant for delivering sermons to his flock on how to do a better job. He zealously believes that his populist, everybody-is-important organization can make...

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