NZ’S MOST REPUTABLE ORGANISATION: Air New Zealand: Flying people not planes

Even in year when Air New Zealand received significant global recognition there is, says the airline’s chief executive Rob Fyfe, “no recognition more valuable than that from fellow New Zealanders”.
Fyfe’s comment came in response to his company being named NZ Management’s Most Reputable Organisation, the first time the accolade has been awarded.
“It’s humbling and immensely rewarding to be recognised by peer Kiwi businesses,” he added.
Last year Fyfe picked up the Deloitte/Management magazine Top 200 Executive of the Year Award. Now his company has been acknowledged as leader in “an area that really matters to us”, he said.
Air New Zealand was ranked as New Zealand Most Reputable Company with the added plaudit of being named the Most Reputable Organisation overall.
Fyfe is delighted because he thinks New Zealanders expect lot of their national airline. “They are simultaneously our harshest critics and our most avid supporters,” he says. “To win this award means lot to us.”
Five years ago, when he took over as the airline’s CEO, he discarded words like “vision, mission and strategy” from the organisational lexicon. “We decided to centre our business around the authenticity of our people and their personalities,” he says.
“Our business is about flying people, not planes. We have given our 11,500 people the opportunity and responsibility to be themselves and to engage with colleagues, customers and suppliers in genuine and engaging Kiwi manner.”
This philosophy now permeates everything the employees do and effectively shapes the company’s overall reputation in the marketplace. “It is business advantage that can only be achieved when you have passionate and highly engaged workforce,” says Fyfe.
“Trust is essential to the success of an airline,” he says. “More than 35,000 passengers get on our aircraft every day and put their safety in our hands. Our reputation, our integrity and our commitment to safety – these are the foundation stones of our business. The airline business is testament to how quickly businesses fail if they lose the trust of their customers.”
Reputation is, says Fyfe, built at multiple levels. “Our passengers translate clean aircraft, our brand reputation and our customer service into signals of business that pays attention to detail and cares about and listens to its customers. They also see it as business that represents New Zealand on the world stage with pride, integrity and in an authentic Kiwi way.”
At 42nd largest in the world, Air New Zealand is, Fyfe concedes, tiny player in the global aviation market.
“Yet we win all sorts of awards including Airline of the Year and Best Passenger Service beating off far bigger rivals. This is because of our reputation for being innovative and nimble and having team who go out of their way to help passengers.”
Fyfe’s decision to focus on people and personality guides what is done at the airline and provides his most important success measure.
“Rather than use policies and procedures to define the personality – we use stories and real-life experiences to bring this personality to life and to give our people guidelines and reference points,” he says.
“Our stories bring to life simple concepts like: be yourself; welcome as friend; can do; and share your New Zealand. These concepts guide our responses.”
The result is, he says, that all Air New Zealand employees feel trusted, supported and empowered to be themselves.
“Our industry is governed, for good reason, by the strictest rules and regulations. The sense of identity that sits alongside these rules sets us apart from many of our competitors. And it brings genuine and relaxed Kiwi style to the way we do things they can’t even begin to match,” he adds.
Fyfe also sees direct link between reputation and shareholder value. “The airline industry has incredibly fine margins. Every passenger that chooses to fly with Air New Zealand rather than one of our competitors because of our reputation, is of great value to us.”
A two to three percent increase in passenger demand as result of reputational pull increases the company’s profit by 50 percent, he says.
“And earlier this year our reputation brought us one of the biggest accolades in the industry – the Air Transport World magazine Airline of the Year Award.
“These are the Oscars of the industry and ATW Airline of the Year is probably the greatest compliment bestowed on Air New Zealand since its inception. The global publicity that emanates from an award like this further builds passenger preference, reputation and shareholder value.”
The greatest intangible benefit of winning reputation is the pull it has with people.
“Our employees are connected with the company and what we stand for better than at any time since we started measuring employee engagement,” says Fyfe.
“Today 88.9 percent of our staff feel genuinely connected with the company, compared with 68.5 percent three years ago. Our reputation in the marketplace helps build staff culture and vice versa, and customer service levels correlate closely with the increased sense of engagement and connection.”
The other New Zealand organisations Fyfe rates highly are those that don’t feel intimidated by New Zealand’s small size and remoteness.
“Those that believe in themselves, their ability to perform at world-class levels and which embrace their New Zealand identity as source of advantage,” he adds.

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