What can Tony Fernandes of AirAsia teach US airline executives? Servant leadership.
I read an article about Tony Fernandes, the CEO of AirAsia, in The Economist today that got me thinking. Thinking about the last few articles I’ve written about United Airlines, RyanAir and Southwest Airlines – on how they make money off their customers – what what works and what doesn’t.
There’re a lot of airlines in the US and Europe can learn from Tony Fernandes and AirAsia (+ Azran and AirAsiaX). Here’s how the article in The Economist ended.
“Mr Fernandes says that he came to the industry with no preconceptions, but found it rigidly compartmentalized and dysfunctional. He wanted AirAsia to reflect his own unstuffy, open and cheerful personality. He is rarely seen without his baseball cap, open-neck shirt and jeans, and he is proud that the firm’s lack of hierarchy (very unusual in Asia) means anyone can rise to do anyone else’s job. AirAsia employs pilots who started out as baggage handlers and stewards; for his part, Mr Fernandes also practises what he preaches. Every month he spends a day as a baggage-handler; every two months, a day as cabin crew; every three months, a day as a check-in clerk. He has even established a “culture department” to “pass the message and hold parties”.”
I wonder when Glenn Tilton last flew Economy Class on United Airlines and when Michael O’leary helped load the baggage on RyanAir…if they did, they probably would learn not just a lot more about their employees, but also their customers, don’t you think?
I wonder why is it that the concept of servant leadership is lacking in the airline industry?
Especially in the Western world. We know that exceptions like Southwest exist, but why don’t others do it too, when they see this working out well?
I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.