Getting the Business Right
An Interview with Richard Anderson and Richard Branson
Delta Air Lines CEO Richard Anderson and Richard Branson, founder of Virgin Group, recently got together to talk innovation. Today’s announcement about customer benefits is another step in the Delta/Virgin Atlantic partnership.
Richard Anderson: I was reading a recent blog post you wrote: “5 Tips for a New Generation of Entrepreneurs.” The parallels to your business track record are obvious, but I couldn’t help also seeing some similarities to what we’ve been doing at Delta with a more than 80-year-old company.
Richard Branson: The age of an individual or a business isn’t a barrier to being innovative. While those tips are especially relevant to people starting out in business, successful companies are always on the lookout for smart advice and new inspiration. The entrepreneurial spirit is something that should be constantly cultivated—particularly in a customer service business.
RA: The first piece of advice is: “Get the business model right.” That’s exactly what we’ve been doing at Delta. We made some fundamental changes to get out of what can be a never-ending struggle against the natural cycles of the economy. That got our business to a place where we can provide rewarding, long-term careers for Delta people, a return for our shareholders and investment in our product for our customers. Keeping our employees happy has a real impact on customer service. And changes in the business have made it possible for us to address our customers’ preferences. For example, we now offer full flat-bed seats, great chef-driven food, an expertly curated wine list, pervasive Wi-Fi, mobile connections, top-notch terminals at our biggest international gateways and new and renovated Delta Sky Clubs.
RB: Focusing on high-quality products that are better than the competition is essential for any business. You also need to concentrate on celebrating and supporting your people, who are the foundation of every successful company. So often we get bogged down in what we think the rules of business are, but there is plenty of scope to try new things and trust your instincts. Sometimes the manual is only there to be thrown out!
RA: At Delta, we’ve found that common values are far better than any detailed manual could ever be. When you’re flying 160 million people a year around the globe, there are just too many variables to write rules for. Delta people, from the CEOs office to the front line, rely on our culture and our core values to guide our business decisions every day. Sure, we have to have rules, but our values help us know when the rules aren’t sufficient. Bending the rules—especially for our most loyal customers—is often just the right thing to do.
RB: A common set of values is another way of going about finding like-minded people, and also for believing in what you do. This comes through in how we work with customers. All Virgin Atlantic employees have a passion to ensure that our customers have the best experience, and that really comes across in how the staff interacts with our customers.
RA: Absolutely right. Every day I ask myself, “What can I do today to make Delta better?” That’s the entrepreneurial spirit at work, even at an 80-year-old company—it requires thinking differently about our business in ways that always stay true to our values and help us to always have our customers’ backs.
WHO // Delta Air Lines CEO Richard Anderson and Virgin Atlantic president Richard Branson
WHERE // Delta Sky Club, Terminal 4 at New York City’s JFK Airport
WHEN // May 24, 2013