Jet Blue is one of those entrepreneurial success stories you have to love. Founder David Neeleman announced in February 1999 that he planned to launch a new airline. Each seat, he later explained, would offer 24 channels satellite television — something never before seen in the airline industry. A little more than a year later, Jet Blue’s inaugural flight took off from JFK airport in New York City to Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Others quickly followed as did industry awards for best airline and customer service.
Today, Neelman’s innovative new airline is the 7th largest airline in the country with 11,500 employees and $12 million in profit. And it continues to grow and succeed when other commercial carriers are floundering.
Recently, I interviewed David Barger who has been the CEO of Jet Blue for the past two years. He told me the airline isn’t afraid to be on the leading edge. “Our hallmark is innovation. It is doing things a different way — we’re contrarian. I like to think we’re an “un-airline.”
Barger accredits much of Jet Blue’s success to maintaining a small business attitude, even though the company has grown substantially in the past nine years. “We are trying to maintain that small company feeling because at the end of the day it is about one, person, one customer, one city at a time and that is how you build a brand,” he explained.
Additionally, Barger advised that young companies should always build for the lean time so you can rise through the tough times: And he stressed the importance of constantly being innovative — maintaining the spirit of entrepreneurship — or otherwise you’ll grow stale.
Excellent advice from a small business start-up success to all of us who hope to be the next Jet Blue in our industries.