"That good inertia benefits the whole company," Cappelli said.
According to people who know Kellner, he feels as strongly about getting out into the trenches to speak with employees as he does about spending time each morning taking his four young children to school.
In the past two years, he has made a near-mantra of the word "team. " While it would be easy to think of it as gimmicky in his weekly recorded messages to the company's 44,000 employees, with Kellner it's an essential principle.
Case in point: Last October, Kellner returned to his alma mater, the University of South Carolina's Moore School of Business, as a guest speaker in the school's annual lecture series, and he spoke of the importance of that cooperation.
"The companies that are successful," he said, "are the companies that get people to work together, to go in the same direction."
Bethune said one of Kellner's strengths is his understanding of the importance of customer service and employee satisfaction. "You can't have one without the other," Bethune said.
"I'm pretty simple about most of my approaches," Kellner said during the conversation in his office. "You've got to be focused. You've got to be concise. You will fail if people are wondering about what you're doing."
Kellner said he stays focused by keeping a short list of priorities. "I always have three things," he said. "Not 30. Not 300. There are always three things."
Kellner declined to specify the items on his list for strategic reasons.
"The companies that are successful are the companies that get people to work together, to go in the same direction." - Larry Kellner, Continental Airlines
chief executive officer