Azul airlines founder says love is key to success
Neeleman, a New Canaan father of nine, last week told Westport Rotarians at Longshore Inn about his latest airline venture: Azul airline in Brazil, which he got off the ground 15 months ago.
"I ask employees if they love their jobs and if they don't, I ask why not," Neeleman said. "I expect them to love their work enough to consider that they are working for a good cause. Unless they have that core value I believe they cannot make the customers feel like saying `wow' at the completion of a trip on Azul."
Due to the unique needs for reasonable cost air travel in Brazil and his "love style of management," Neeleman, a native of Brazil who has dual citizenship there and in the U.S., said Azul is succeeding and in an expanding mode.
"We have 26 planes and will have 48 next year, " he said. "The new ones will lbe prop jets. They have greter fuel efficiency (which) will contribute to greater profit."
Neeleman told the Rotarians that in Brazil, people are classified by letter according to income, and Azul caters to middle- and low-income classes. The highest classes, rich and middle are A, B, C, with C being the middle class. The lower classes are D and F, Nelleman said, and the new airline draws on the C, D, E classes for its frequent fliers.
"This makes sense from a time and money standpoint," he said."Nannies and house workers from the D and E classes used to have to spend 27 hours each way on a bus to visit their hometowns once a year. ... Now, when flying Azul, they can make three trips home in a year. They love flying."
Until Azul started, Brazil had 50 million air travelers and 200 million who went by the long-haul buses, Neeleman said.
Neeleman said he created Azul after being ousted from his position as JetBlue chief executive officer. He said he structured the new airline in such a way as to eliminate such an event in the future.
"I own 100 percent of voting contgrol at Azul. That's what I learned from the JetBlue experience," he said.
The Azul CEO emphasized his employees' dedication to the company as part of his business plan.
"We have 1,000 workers who embrace the company's `I love my job' philosophy," Neeleman said. "Companies grow faster because of your people and allegiance to your brand. We give our workers a little bit of love, and they go out and take care of our customers."
Summing up on Azul, Neeleman said: "We're flying a half- million people a month in 24 cities. In 75 percent of our market, we have no nonstop competition. In the routes we fly, we have 85 percent market share.We expect $1 billion in sales next year."