United, Starbucks vet Jim Olson forms Hangar 6

His new firm will focus on leadership stories.

Jim Olson
Jim Olson

CHICAGO: Former United Airlines chief communicator Jim Olson has formed a strategic storytelling consultancy.

The firm, called Hangar 6 Strategic Storytelling, is based in Chicago. It is focused on helping clients move today’s businesses and organizations into being tomorrow’s leadership stories, said Olson, who will serve as president.

Olson added that he wants to focus on clients’ leadership stories versus just storytelling for the sake of storytelling.

"We are in a turbulent world right now, so there is a need for a strategic, purpose-driven approach to storytelling," Olson said. "I don’t view stories as the end of the storytelling journey. It’s the start of the conversation."

Hangar 6 will focus on corporate, academic, and NGO clients. Olson explained he is not concerned with serving any particular industry or sector, rather clients and organizations that are purpose-driven.

"Telling leadership stories, whether you’re a startup, going through an IPO, or a 90-year-old company looking to renew its leadership presence - those are the kinds of organizations I want to work with," Olson said.

Olson added he does not foresee growing Hangar 6 into a multi-person firm.

"I like this idea of a collective or collaborative where I draw from the best of other folks who are doing the same thing with a different flavor or slant to it," he said.

Proof, an analytics software company founded and led by Mark Stouse, brought on Olson as a senior adviser earlier this month. Proof enables customers to compute and display fully attributed business and financial impacts for functions such as marketing, communications, corporate social responsibility, and HR, including financial return, time to return, risk levels, and points of diminishing return.

"Proof is the kind of partnership I am lining up to bring a different kind of thinking to clients," said Olson.

The name for his firm is derived from Hangar 6 at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport. Olson explained he was exposed to the hangar in 2009, when Chesley Burnett "Sully" Sullenberger splash-landed U.S. Airways Flight 1549 on the Hudson River.

Olson was head of communications at U.S. Airways at the time of the iconic incident.

"Hangar 6 is the air launch pad for uncovering the story behind tragic accidents or great stories like Sully," said Olson. "The National Transportation Safety Board are storytellers, illuminating how to create a safer travel experience for the public."

In January, Olson stepped down after two years as United Continental Holdings’ communications leader.

He joined United as SVP of corporate communications in February 2016 after a stint as VP of global corporate communications at Starbucks, relocating from Seattle to Chicago for the role. He previously worked at U.S. Airways, Waggener Edstrom Worldwide, and Yahoo.

Olson’s tenure at United has included contract negotiations with unions, a shareholder activist battle, and a social media crisis over its customer dress code known as #LeggingsGate. Last April, the airline received significant blowback on social media after it violently ejected passenger David Dao from a flight from Chicago to Louisville, Kentucky.

Two months after the Dao incident, the carrier upped Brett Hart to chief administrative officer and general counsel, retaining his title of EVP, with oversight of global communications as well as legal, corporate real estate, security, community, and government and regulatory affairs. United hired Frank Benenati, former director of public affairs at the EPA, as director of corporate communications that month.

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