Robert "Bob" Crandall was born in the small community of Westerly, Rhode Island, in 1935. He lived with his parents in a home that his father had built and that was situated at the end of a potato field. Although he was an engineer, the father worked on government-sponsored construction projects during the Great Depression. After World War II, he began to sell insurance, which caused the Crandall family to make several cross-country moves. In fact, Crandall attended 14 schools in 12 years. To help earn his way, Crandall had a paper route and worked in a grocery store during high school.
Crandall attended the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia, on an academic scholarship, and he worked as a waiter in one of the historic taverns in town to pay expenses. But after a year, he transferred to the University of Rhode Island so that he could be close to his high school sweetheart and future wife, Jan. He earned his degree in business administration and later attended the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School of Business as an Arthur Young scholarship recipient.
Crandall joined Eastman Kodak Co. in 1960 as a credit supervisor. Two years later, he left to work for Hallmark as a computer programming supervisor. In 1966, he was appointed assistant treasurer for Trans World Airlines (TWA). He later became TWA's vice president for data services and then became vice president and controller. He joined American Airlines in 1973 as senior vice president of finance and quickly rose through the airline's ranks. From 1980 to 1985, he served as American's president and chief operating officer. In 1985, he added the role of chairman and CEO of both American and its parent, AMR Corp. He held those positions until his retirement in 1998.
During his 25 years with American, Crandall transformed the entire airline industry, leading American to the industry's highest profits through the creation of the first frequent flier program, discount airfares, and cutting-edge reservations systems, all innovations that soon became industry standards. The Wall Street Journal described Crandall as "the man who changed the way the world flies."
In discussing his management style, Crandall once said, "One of the most important qualities of leadership is to recognize that you use leadership to empower others. It isn't about doing it all yourself, but about involving other people to achieve a shared vision."
Crandall credits his parents for instilling in him values that helped him throughout his life. "My parents' values were absolute," he says. "There were no compromises. You told the truth, you did what you said you would do, you lived the straight and narrow, and you did everything as well as you could. I've done well living by those standards. I believe that to be an effective leader you have to have the highest ethical standards."