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BOSTON — SIGMA: America’s Leading Fuel Marketers closed out its 2015 Annual Meeting on Wednesday by saluting Veterans Day. The effort was led by Air Force veteran Chesley B. “Sully” Sullenberger III, who began his speech by honoring fellow veterans in the audience at Boston's Westin Copley Place.
Of course, Sullenberger is not best known for his time in the Air Force, but rather for his “Miracle on the Hudson” flight on Jan. 15, 2009. He expertly guided U.S. Airways Flight 1549 into the Hudson River — which separates New York from New Jersey — saving all 155 people onboard.
In what can be best described as an enthralling and tear-inducing speech, Sullenberger relived that day from right before Canadian geese struck the plane, up until he uttered seven words on the public address system: “This is the captain, brace for impact,” just before the plane, originating from LaGuardia Airport, landed in the river.
Sullenberger, in great detail, described his thought process during the stressful 208-second process, which he acknowledged was the “hardest day of my life.”
“My first thought was, ‘This can’t be happening,’ he recounted. “Then I thought, ‘This doesn’t happen to me.’ I knew this would not end on a runway with an aircraft undamaged.”
He provided nuggets of advice for convenience store retailers during his speech, entitled “Preparing for Excellence: Leading Your Team to Success.”
“Never stop learning,” he said. “You can’t get through a lifetime with a single skill set. I had to reinvent myself.”
He also stressed the need for innovation, which he defined as “changing before you have to.”
On the topic of leadership, the Miracle on the Hudson pilot asserted that “leaders are made, not just born.” There’s a difference between leadership and management, he noted, adding that all leaders must learn "human skills" in addition to technical skills.
The current author and CBS News aviation expert closed his 40-minute speech by recommending all petroleum industry executives in the audience leave behind a legacy they can be proud of.
“It is unlikely later in life we will count our money and deals we made,” he concluded. “Instead, we will ask, ‘Did I make a difference?’ I hope your answer is yes.”
The 2015 SIGMA Annual Meeting took place Nov. 9-11. The event will return Nov. 2-4, 2016 at Washington, D.C.’s JW Marriott Hotel.