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by Barbara S. Peterson
Portfolio © 2004, 262 pages, $24.95 (ISBN 1-59184-058-9).
Inside the Upstart That Rocked an Industry
Five years ago, entrepreneur David Neeleman moved from Utah to New York with his wife and nine children to start a company that would entice jaded travelers into loving the airways once again. Despite giant obstacles (a recession, 9/11, etc.) he has seen success beyond his wildest dreams: His company, JetBlue Airways, consistently makes a profit while growing rapidly and garnering great customer satisfaction ratings. In Blue Streak, editor and author Barbara S. Peterson follows the company from its inception to its current status as a role model for all other ambitious upstarts.
Tracking JetBlue’s improbable journey from startup to major player in the airline industry, Peterson presents the story of a company whose tight organizational culture often appears cult-like, and whose success is undeniable. As she weaves together interviews with more than 75 company insiders, from mechanics on the runway to CEO Neeleman himself, Peterson reveals the steps that were taken along the company’s path to industry success.
Using her skills as a veteran reporter, Peterson digs into her subject by submerging herself in the company and even attending JetBlue’s training for flight attendants. In her introduction, she describes the anxiety she experienced as she flipped through JetBlue’s training manual for guidance: “Think in terms of difficult situations, not difficult people.” She notes that there are no mentions of “passengers” throughout the manual because JetBlue prefers employees to refer to those who use its services as “customers.”
Couch Potato Comforts
In mid-1999, JetBlue was a paper airline that had no planes, no name and no license to fly. At the end of 2003, Peterson reports, it was one of the most on-time and the most full airlines in the country. By mid-2004, the company had made a profit in more than sixteen consecutive quarters and was ranked among the top 10 airlines in the country.
Exploring the reasons for JetBlue’s success in a business environment where other airlines were racking up losses of $20 billion since 2000, Peterson points to many of the differences between traditional airlines and JetBlue. For one, the language used by those in the company is unique: Employees are “crew members” and supervisors are “in-flight support specialists.” Secondly, there are many elements of its flights that differ from its rivals and that add to the company’s bottom line, including:
• No meals. Serving snacks instead creates enormous cost savings.
• No rolling carts. Carts clog the aisle and slow down the service. Also, the massive serving carts used by other airlines are one of the biggest causes of on-the-job injuries.
• Seat-back TV screens. No fee is charged for their use.
• Crew members help customers stow their carry-ons in the overhead bins. This improves punctuality by shaving about 10 minutes off the boarding time of each flight.
Peterson writes that it is with “this mix of couch potato comforts and solicitous service that JetBlue has upended an industry.” Not only does Blue Streak describe how JetBlue beat sizable odds in one of the toughest businesses and during one of the worst periods in that business’ history, but it also depicts how an unassailable brand was created in a business where brand loyalty no longer exists.
Throughout Blue Streak, Peterson returns to Neeleman’s vision of figuring out what customers need, and giving it to them. By describing the ideas and culture of this unusual company, she provides a deeper understanding of why JetBlue is the first postderegulation airline to reach major airline status in only five years. While assessing how it got where it is today, she provides the basis for speculation about where it will go over the next five years.
Four Success Secrets
During her years of observing the company from its inception and interviewing many of its people, Peterson found four secrets that JetBlue has used to become the epitome of success. These are:
1. Focus on customer service. While going through flight attendant training, Peterson learned that JetBlue trains its employees harder than anyone else.
2. Keep prices not just low, but fair and easy to understand. Neeleman explains that customers “know we’ll treat them fair and give them a fair deal.”
3. Don’t abuse coach passengers. JetBlue crams fewer people into its coach section than any other airline.
4. Minimize the really big hassles. JetBlue does not overbook its flights. If a passenger is delayed more than an hour, he or she will be compensated. ~
Why We Like This Book
Blue Streak offers more than the tabulated lists of strategies and tactics an organization has used to bring down costs and increase profits. Instead, Peterson’s work explores the personality and methods of a company’s founder while providing a wealth of details on which a complete story of the startup can be built. What emerges is the human story glowing behind a successful organization. By revealing the thoughts of the people at JetBlue, she taps into valuable business and customer service lessons ~