What child hasn’t dreamed of being able to fly? Like many youngsters, David Seymour was fascinated with flying and airplanes. And today, he lives that dream as a top executive and Chief Operating Officer at American Airlines.
A West Point graduate of the class of ‘86, Seymour served with the 82nd Airborne Division, the famed airborne infantry division of the U.S. Army, which specializes in parachute combat operations.
Born in Munich on an Army base, Seymour began his life journey as a self-proclaimed “Army brat.” During his childhood, his father’s military commitments required the relocation of his family from the U.S. to many European cities. Their military lifestyle broadened his horizons with school trips, hiking the Alps, touring Israel and the Soviet Bloc countries, opportunities to alpine ski 50 to 60 days a year, and jumping out of airplanes a week after his 16th birthday.
“It helped me get on track to where I wanted to be,” he said. “It would never have happened had I stayed in the States,” he added in an exclusive interview with Veterans Advantage.
DAD’S INFLUENCE AND MILITARY SERVICE
Seymour grew up in a loving, supportive military family overseas and stateside. His Vietnam Veteran father, who also served in the 82nd Airborne, was a great role model with strong leadership capabilities and qualities.
“I remember him being around soldiers and others,” Seymour said, reflecting on memories of his early years. “You just watched him, how he interacted, how he always treated people with respect, his care for his soldiers, his commitment.”
In between Seymour’s father’s many deployments, “Everything else was centered around us,” he says about himself and his older brother, also a West Point graduate and 82nd Airborne veteran. “I saw the career and life my dad had in the Army, and I said ‘this was great. I like it.’ When I went to West Point, I thought I would be a career guy,” he recalls, referring to his early expectations of making the Army his life’s work.
After graduation from the United States Military Academy at West Point, Seymour’s Army career flourished. He served as a platoon leader and then company executive officer in the 82nd Airborne. Then, he was selected to be an aide-de-camp for the 18th Airborne Corps chief of staff and later the deputy corps commander with a path to advance to Special Forces and other elements of the Army’s special operations units.
Ultimately, a desire to start a family persuaded Seymour to make a lifestyle change. Before he left active service, Seymour served his final year on the U.S. Army Parachute Team, famously nicknamed the Golden Knights. “You actually get to fly yourself!” he said, describing his phenomenal experiences parachuting, an activity he still pursues today.
He left the military in 1991 to start a civilian career. But he has no regrets about originally pursuing an Army career and is deeply grateful for the time he spent in the armed forces.
“If someone would tell me I can redo a part of my life, that part I would never redo. I learned so much. I enjoyed the experiences. It made me who I am today,” said Seymour about West Point and his military experience.
AIRLINE INDUSTRY AND LEADERSHIP ROLES
After transitioning first to a full-time civilian job, Seymour pursued a graduate degree in business, earning his MBA from Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management. Not too long after receiving his MBA, Seymour jumped feet first into a career in the airline industry in 1999 when he joined America West Airlines, which later merged with US Airways in 2005.
During his 11 years with U.S. Airways, Seymour went on to hold several key leadership positions until the company merged with American Airlines in late 2013. Once at American, he continued to move up the ranks with major leadership positions in operations.
Seymour received a prestigious industry-wide award in 2015 from the airline trade group Airlines for America. He was recognized with the Engineering, Maintenance and Materiel Council, Nuts and Bolts Award in honor of his “exceptional service contributions in commercial aviation engineering and maintenance.”
Ameican’s president and incoming CEO, Robert Isom, commended Seymour on this achievement with the public statement: "This honor demonstrates David's commitment to the solid foundation of safety and compliance that American is built on. Thanks to his leadership, our Technical Operations team is well-positioned to support the largest airline in the world and has improved our reliability at the same time it was playing a key role in helping American achieve a single operating certificate from the Federal Aviation Administration. I am glad that our industry colleagues have chosen to recognize David for his contributions."
In late 2019, Seymour’s operational responsibilities at American were further expanded to include leading all of the company’s airport operations. “I love operations. There’s a lot that goes on here that’s similar to the military — no two days are alike,” he says about both his past and current roles.
Today, as Chief Operating Officer at American, Seymour reports directly to American’s president and incoming CEO, Robert Isom. American currently serves more than 200 million customers annually, and Seymour now leads more than 75,000 frontline team members who keep the American Airlines operation moving.
Seymour’s impressive rise through the ranks at American Airlines has also made him very aware of the tremendous value a military background brings to the corporate world. He advises transitioning military to focus on and promote the learned leadership skills and the strong work habits they acquired through their military service.
“You can’t civilianize your leadership capabilities,” he says to potential corporate recruits about their military skills. “I am not hiring you because you were an infantry officer, or artillery officer, or parachute rigger. I am hiring you for your leadership capabilities and your work ethic.”
STILL JUMPING AND GIVING BACK
Seymour still jumps out of planes today, including occasionally joining forces with some Golden Knights alumni and fellow veterans in the “All Veteran Parachute Team”. Their skydiving activities have helped support Combat Injured Troops, an organization formed to help those who suffer from the silent wounds of war. Its “Therapy in the Air” program was created to help warriors “thrive through post-traumatic growth” with skydiving and other life enhancement programs.
At American, David serves as an executive sponsor of the airline’s Veteran Military Employee Business Resource Group, which continuously works to support team members as they transition to civilian careers or manage the dual responsibility of working at American while also serving part-time in uniform.
Back home, Seymour enjoys life with his spouse of 30 years, Colleen, along with their daughter, an aspiring physician assistant, and their son, who attends Harvard and plays on its football team.
And, Seymour continues to pursue an amazing aviation career and skydiving more than 40 years after his first parachute jump. Not bad for an Army brat who once only dreamed of flying!