From the mail­room to the board­room

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - BUSINESS - By LIN WEN­JIE in Hong Kong cher­rylin@chi­nadai­lyhk.com

John Borghetti draws im­mense in­spi­ra­tion from his nearly half a cen­tury’s as­so­ci­a­tion with the avi­a­tion busi­ness.

He got his first job as a ju­nior mail­room boy at Aus­tralian flag car­rier Qan­tas, work­ing all the way up to ex­ec­u­tive gen­eral man­ager. He re­signed in 2010 af­ter be­ing passed over as chief ex­ec­u­tive of Qan­tas, and joined key ri­val Vir­gin Aus­tralia Air­lines as chief ex­ec­u­tive and man­ag­ing di­rec­tor.

Un­der Borghetti’s lead­er­ship, Vir­gin Aus­tralia, for the first time, de­throned Qan­tas Air­ways as Aus­tralia’s best air­line in the 2017 Sky­trax World Air­line Awards.

Borghetti’s vir­tual rags-to-riches story in the cor­po­rate scene has stirred cu­rios­ity among many over his phe­nom­e­nal rise. But, the self-made high­fly­ing ex­ec­u­tive puts it all down to dili­gence and con­cen­tra­tion as the virtues needed for his ca­reer’s suc­cess.

“Work hard and stay fo­cused. Too many young peo­ple to­day are in a hurry. They seek overnight suc­cess, but they’ve gone too fast and ended up nowhere. So, don’t think about an ex­tra job, just worry about what you’re do­ing now.”

He also sees hav­ing a long-term vi­sion, de­ter­mi­na­tion and the abil­ity to win over peo­ple that will ul­ti­mately bring re­wards.

“The short-term fo­cus is for man­agers, and the longer-term fo­cus is for lead­ers. If you have a long-term vi­sion, be­ing able to see where your busi­ness would be headed in 10 or five years’ time, your com­pany will be around longer, com­pared with some­one who merely looks at to­day or to­mor­row.”

A leader, Borghetti says, should be de­ter­mined and con­vinced in what he or she says, and avoid be­ing put off by those laugh­ing at what the leader says. Thus, a leader would not be dis­rupted by those bent on bring­ing him down, or force him to change his mind.

Borghetti re­calls his rather un­pleas­ant or­deal dur­ing his early days at Vir- gin Aus­tralia as he be­gan a cam­paign to bring monumental changes to the Vir­gin prod­uct. Most peo­ple did not buy his idea and heaped scorn on it. But, he kept trans­form­ing the com­pany’s sim­ple, in­ter­net-based busi­ness of­fer­ing cheap fares to a more com­plex sys­tem with dif­fer­ent ticket pric­ings in dif­fer­ent mar­kets. As a re­sult, the gap in the mar­ket share be­tween the Qan­tas and Vir­gin brands has nar­rowed sig­nif­i­cantly.

Re­la­tion­ships within and out­side the com­pany are vi­tal too, such as the re­la­tion­ship with sup­pli­ers, em­ploy­ees and cus­tomers.

“I always treat oth­ers like in­di­vid­u­als and friends, rather than a busi­ness trans­ac­tion. I don’t want to deal with a com­pany based on the best prices it of­fers at the time, and then next year moves to an­other sup­plier be­cause their prices are cheaper. We need to cre­ate a re­la­tion­ship that’s ben­e­fi­cial to both sides.”

As busy as he is, Borghetti spends most of his time on cus­tomers. He tries talk­ing to 30 to 40 of them each day by email, tele­phone or in face-to-face en­coun­ters to un­der­stand their needs.

“The truth is the higher a per­son is in the lead­er­ship po­si­tion, the more dis­tant he’s from the cus­tomers, but that’s dan­ger­ous. So, I force my­self to stay con­nected with my cus­tomers. I want to let them feel that when they have a prob­lem, there’s some­one who can help them. Only by talk­ing di­rectly to them, I can un­der­stand what they like and what they don’t like.”

Very im­por­tant cus­tomers, he says, want to feel they are spe­cial, like be­ing able to ac­cess se­nior man­age­ment when­ever they want, says Borghetti, cit­ing a les­son from his fam­ily.

“My fa­ther used to own a cof­fee shop. When I was 14 and was help­ing him out at the shop, he would tell me: ‘Look af­ter your cus­tomers, and the busi­ness will look af­ter it­self ’. This has left a very deep im­pres­sion on me. A leader must listen to cus­tomers — with­out them, you don’t have busi­ness.”

Work hard and stay fo­cused. Too many young peo­ple to­day are in a hurry. They seek overnight suc­cess, but they’ve gone too fast and ended up nowhere.”

John Borghetti, Vir­gin Aus­tralia CEO

Vir­gin Aus­tralia CEO John Borghetti says China is the fu­ture for the air­line and serv­ing the main­land marks the first step of its global ex­pan­sion pro­gram.

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