Surprising Stewardship Lessons from the Miracle on the Hudson

May 13, 2019 |
2 minute read

“When you’ve suffered a complete loss of engine thrust over the largest city in America, you must act quickly and independently to address the developing situation. But, you must also trust in the system that trained you and prepared you to handle such moments of crisis.” As Jeff Skiles elaborates on his website, his story of co-piloting U.S. Airways flight 1549, the “Miracle on the Hudson,” would not have had its perfect ending if it weren’t for the years of training and preparation that allowed Captain Sullenberger and him to work together as a team and maximize their time, communication, and effectiveness. While it may not seem obvious, investment stewards can learn important, relevant lessons from that heroic landing.

Skiles will be the keynote speaker at Commonfund Institute’s Investment Stewardship Academy, being held at the Yale School of Management from June 24-28, 2019.

Here’s a preview of some of the lessons investment stewards will learn from his talk.

  • Forward-Looking:  Commercial airliners rarely have rear view mirrors because, as one pilot wrote, “Because the world is changing rapidly, you need to look ahead, not back.” This is especially true for investment stewards who need to be thinking ahead for the long-term and preparing their institutions for the future.
  • Process and Procedure:  Both Skiles and Sullenberger have been quoted on how well-documented processes and procedures gave them the ability to act rationally the moment they faced danger. By deciding in advance what they would do, they reduced the margin for error. The same holds true for investment stewards who can protect themselves from market turbulence with a solid investment policy statement and structured decision-making process.
  • Managing Complexity:  According to Skiles, due to the extreme complexity of aircraft, operation, and environment, the aviation industry has been forced to develop layers of professionals, institutional and personnel procedural solutions, checklists, flows, and the teamwork, systems and procedures to integrate them all into a functional whole. Trustees, investment committee members and staff all have an important role to play in stewarding investment capital and need to develop the skills to handle it.
  • Barriers to Error:  Skiles says that like all human beings, pilots make mistakes. Airlines use mistakes not to place blame, but to prevent future errors. They even encourage pilots to self-report errors without threat of disciplinary action. Improving processes, learning from mistakes, and conducting rigorous self-assessments can give investment stewards their own barriers to error.
  • Delegation:  “As aircraft operations have gotten more complex, it has become far too difficult for any one individual to conduct operations,” says Skiles. An array of professionals – from dispatchers to flight attendants – all have a role in getting an airliner in the air and on the ground safely. “Each has experience and responsibility that must be respected.” In today’s world, investment stewards have the capability and the responsibility to delegate actions and decisions to specialized professionals. Even pilots like Skiles will defer to experts, knowing that systems and structures are in place to ensure everyone works together as a coordinated whole.

These are among the many surprising parallels between the work of investment stewards and airline crews. If the training and preparedness of the crew on U.S. Airways flight 1549 could save 155 lives, imagine what the proper training can do for your institution. The Investment Stewardship Academy provides this and the chance to meet this heroic steward of his passengers’ lives. To find out more about the program click here.


  1. Skiles, Jeff, Miracle on the Hudson | Jeff Skiles. (accessed May 13, 2019)
  2. Silbaugh, Barry and Jeff Skiles. Landing on the Hudson River: Lessons for Health Care. (accessed May 13, 2019)

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