The ninth annual (ISC)² Security Congress got off to a flying start with a lesson in handling pressure from retired pilot captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger.
Sullenberger famously landed US Airways Flight 1549 in the Hudson River on January 15, 2009, after both engines were disabled by a bird strike. While the Canada geese that struck the plane didn’t live to see another day, incredibly, everyone on the plane survived.
The feat performed by Sullenberger and the flight’s first officer, Jeffrey Skiles, on that cold winter day was even more remarkable since the only water-landing training they had undergone was a theoretical discussion of how it might be done.
Sullenberger began his keynote by paying tribute to Jeff, the crew, and the first responders, emphasizing that “a successful outcome requires the efforts of many people.”
He then described the terrifying events of that fateful day, which unfolded over just 208 seconds. Sullenberger said a lifetime of preparation was what enabled him to deal with the genuine life-or-death situation he encountered.
The former pilot, now aged 68, paid tribute to his grandparents, who imbued him with a “lifelong love of reading and learning.”
He entreated the gathered crowd to “never stop investigating” and to “change before you’re forced to”—to embrace innovation and change so they are better able to handle adversity.
Sullenberger added: “As the pace of change accelerates, most of us can’t get through our entire working lifetime with just one skillset. Instead, we must keep on learning, growing, stretching ourselves.”
The husband and father of two credited his grandparents and parents with teaching him that with any authority comes responsibility, a lesson that was ground in even deeper during his US air force training.
Sullenberger underlined the importance of civic responsibility for normal life to function, saying: “If we didn’t give each other these little gifts of civic behavior, civilization wouldn’t be possible. Everyday activities we take for granted, like driving down the highway, would be suicidal if we didn’t.”
Other key takeaways from Sullenberger’s keynote were that decisions “must be based on facts, not fears, and certainly not falsehoods,” and that leaders should lead through personal example.
Sullenberger finished by saying that his colleagues had observed the way he lived his life, helping people and sticking to his core values.
“It turned out my reputation had been built one interaction, one person, one day at a time.”
He asked people to take the opportunity each encounter with another person provides to do good.
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