From the mailroom to the boardroom
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.