Forbes Coaches Council Member

Leadership Insight: Alaska Airlines CFO

Don’t be ridiculous… I met with the other CFO, Brandon Pedersen. We sit on the Board of Governors at the World Trade Center together and we had a cool conversation about his insight, advice and what he thinks it takes to think from the CEO’s perspective.

The reason I asked is because on October 19th, I’m convening a highly curated, exclusive peer community of emerging executives who are on track to be the thought leaders and industry-shapers in future C-suites. The experience is designed to help early leaders  understand and elevate their awareness to think ‘from the CEO’s perspective’.  For more, visit Leadership Lab no. 19.

Back to Brandon.

What’s the one behavior or trait you think every leader must have in order to be great?

Self-confidence. To be successful at a C-level job, you have to have self-confidence. You know the adage, everyone puts their clothes on the same way and everyone has a similar desire for happiness. That’s true, but at the C-level, you have to have an edge to be able to do a job that’s really hard. And self-confidence is way different than arrogance.

Your best advice for emerging leaders?
The job is hard and the race is long. It takes time to learn what you need to know, gain the experience you need and earn respect. There’s no instant gratification in the long-game.

How would your team describe your leadership in 3 words?
Caring, open-minded and collaborative.

Advice you received early in your career but didn’t believe until now.
Bob Carlisle and Rich McCune, both were leaders at Arthur Anderson and KPMG and very influential in my career. One day, Bob used a word that I didn’t recognize the importance of. He said “Brandon, you’re a little cavalier.” What he meant was when it came to presentations, I would wing it and feel totally comfortable. Bob’s words hinted that a little bit of prep might make me better. From then, till now, I’ve become a believer in preparation. As our other CFO (Chief Football Officer) Russell Wilson says “the separation is in the preparation.”

Who were your influenced your leadership?

  • CEO Brad Tilden pushes me in ways no one else does.
  • Our former CEO, Bill Ayer taught how to be a good leader and to pay attention to the details.
  • Bob and Rich taught me the value of “client focus” – in accounting you can be a bean counter or you can be a bean counter who recognizes the opportunity to serve clients well, and show that the world is not as black and white as many accountants think.
  • Lastly, John Moga, former managing partner at Arthur Anderson, taught me the power of the network and to do the right thing. That was the cultural mantra at Arthur Anderson, and while something got screwed up along the way, the cultural norm was to “think straight and talk straight.”

What are you most excited about right now?
Personally, I’m excited that I have three successful kids and my wife Janet, who I love dearly. We are about to be empty nesters and we’re going to have a lot of fun!  I’m excited to be part of the transformation of Alaska Airlines into something much bigger than it has ever been. The work is hard and the path is rocky, but the future is exciting and this company is going to be awesome!

If you had a talk show, who would be your first guess? And what would you ask them?
Microsoft CEO, Satya Nadella. I marvel at the way he has jump started the company into something it has not been.

What’s the title of your autobiography?
“A Series of Random Events” No one grows up thinking they want to be an accountant, and there are so many things that come at you in life. When those random events occur, you have to position yourself to be ready for them.

What skills did you need to learn to help you think from the CEO’s perspective?
Critical thinking and healthy skepticism. To be successful you have to be professionally skeptical and have a good bullshit meter.


Brandon Pedersen is homegrown Seattle. He started his public accounting career at Arthur Anderson, then moved to KPMG. While working on the Alaska Airlines account for many years, he ultimately decided the client-side was where he’d rather be, and that was like a 100 years ago (or may 10) Anyway, he’s been with Alaska Airlines ever since.

The Leadership Lab no 19 is designed for emerging executives to understand and elevate their awareness to think ‘from the CEO’s perspective’. It’s invite-only, and it’s not for everyone. But if you are a thought leader and industry shaper on the trajectory to the C-Suite, and you think it may be for you, get in touch with me.


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