Doing the impossible

9 06 2012

Richard Branson arrives at the British Grand Prix
photo credit: Richard Smith, licensed under Creative Commons.

“Life is a helluva lot more fun if you say yes rather than no”

My step-son and his friend have produced a musical. They wrote it, set it to music, choreographed it, sold tickets and put it on for a season in a theatre. They are 22 years old. The son of a friend of mine made a movie – full length. He is 18. Clearly no-one told these boys that this was impossible.

You might say this is the up-side of Gen Y. They see the world as full of possibilities, they understand technology and how it can be used to overcome the barriers that stop others. And luckily, they haven’t been taught what is not possible and told not to strive for the impossible.

But there have always been people who saw the opportunity instead of the barriers, took the risks, aimed for the giant goals instead of the small ones, did things that seem to be impossible, but somehow achieved them anyway.

Which brings me to Richard Branson.

Now admittedly, it was the swinging sixties in England, when youth culture suddenly took off and opportunities that didn’t really exist in the staid, respectable and conservative 1950s suddenly opened up. Youth became a market – a very lucrative market, and a market that wasn’t already dominated by established labels.

But still… what made a dyslexic student with poor grades think he could start a magazine at age 16? Or a mail-order record company at 20? Or a record company at 22?

“You don’t learn to walk by following rules. You learn by doing, and by falling over.”

“Although my spelling is still sometimes poor, I have managed to overcome the worst of my difficulties through training myself to concentrate.”

“My biggest motivation? Just to keep challenging myself. I see life almost like one long university education that I never had – every day I’m learning something new.”

And who in their right minds thinks they’ll start an international airline to compete with the likes of British Airways and Qantas?

picture credit Richard Humphrey, licensed under Creative Commons

“What does the name Virgin mean? We are a company that likes to take on the giants. In too many businesses, these giants have had things their own way. We are going to have fun competing with them.”

“I’ve had great fun turning quite a lot of different industries on their head and making sure those industries will never be the same again, because Virgin went in and took them on.”

Yes, the answer is Richard Branson, now the 4th richest man in the UK and worth an estimated $4.2billion US. The man who brought us The Sex Pistols (arguably better known for their on-stage antics and off-stage murders than their music, although God Save the Queen has had a bit of a revival in this Jubilee year by those who want to be seen as alternative and retro at the same time) and Culture Club with the androgynous Boy George.

And along the way he has attempted world-record balloon flights around the world, bought an island, socialised with Princess Di, worked with nelson Mandela on peace projects, and been photographed in all sorts of PR stunts.

And generally, it would seem, had a lot of fun.

“Above all, you want to create something you are proud of. That’s always been my philosophy of business. I can honestly say that I have never gone into any business purely to make money. If that is the sole motive, then I believe you are better off doing nothing.”

Have all his ventures been successes? Probably not, although if you believe the hype, you wouldn’t know it.

“I am prepared to try anything once.”

“My interest in life comes from setting myself huge, apparently unachievable challenges and trying to rise above them.”

“You never know with these things when you’re trying something new what can happen. This is all experimental.”

“We’d love to be involved with the creation of something very special, something quite large and something quite exciting.”

Reading Branson’s autobiography, various quotes and articles that have been written about him, there are a couple of strong themes that come through.

1. fun – he does all this because he enjoys it
2. risk-taking, almost fearlessness in the business sense
3. barriers, challenges and competitors are seen as exciting, not intimidating

“My interest in life comes from setting myself huge, apparently unachievable challenges and trying to rise above them…from the perspective of wanting to live life to the full, I felt that I had to attempt it.”

Your life is the result of the decisions you make. If you aren’t happy with the life you have, then make some other decisions. You are limited only by yourself.

That’s what Gen Y knows.

Interested in more business tales?

The saga of #qantasluxury

23 11 2011

photo credit Simon sees

I am always fascinated by how new media (Facebook, Twitter etc) is driving old media (newspapers, television and radio news) these days. And none has been as entertaining as the saga of the Qantas Luxury hashtag. This has been a massive PR fail for Qantas. And I love a good PR Fail. No-one does a PR fail on the same scale as Qantas.

A quick recap for those who may have been living under a rock over the past few months.

Qantas is in dispute with a number of unions over wage and job security negotiations. Basically the Qantas CEO Alan Joyce says that for Qantas to be competitive in the international marketplace they need to take jobs off-shore and they need wage rates that are more like those in other countries (specifically Asian countries) rather than the Australian wage rates currently enjoyed by staff. He may be right, but awarding himself a 71% pay rise (no that is not a typo) to a package of around $5million whilst crying poor for the airline was not a great PR move.

A quote from Twitter:
Captain PIREP: #qantasluxury @QantasAirways – the 5 Million Dollar Man is the luxury QANTAS can not afford.

However, a few days after receiving the pay rise he then unexpectedly grounded the entire airline citing “safety reasons”. National bad press aimed at the annoyance caused by staff and unions became instead worldwide condemnation in international media aimed at Qantas. Hard to see a win here. Rumours circulated that Qantas’ cheaper sister airline, Jetstar, had received a memo three days earlier informing them that this was going to happen. This did not improve the press.

As a result of the shut-down, the Australian Government decided to step in and refer the industrial dispute to the Industrial Relations Commission for resolution, demanding that Qantas get its planes back in the air. After seeking clearance from the Civil Aviation Authority (which wanted assurances that the airline which formerly cited safety concerns, was now miraculously OK to fly), they were back in business – CEO Alan Joyce blamed the unions for the inconvenience, an excuse which seemed like avoiding an apology. The Industrial Relations Commission gave the parties 21 days to find a resolution and outlawed any further strikes and industrial action by the staff and unions. Presumably that was the outcome Alan Joyce had been seeking in his high-price game of brinkmanship. (Meanwhile in the US, a Harvard University student called Alan Joyce was inundated by tweets from irate Qantas passengers, and dealt with them with humour and patience. Qantas could learn something here.)

My previous posting on this saga is here.

So now for the update. Unsurprisingly, they did not manage to come to an agreement within 21 days, and the dispute is back in front of the Industrial Relations Commission who will make a decision. Potentially not a win for either party.

However, Qantas, realising it has created its own massively negative PR campaign, has taken steps to improve its image in Twitter-land. It launched a competition using the hashtag “Qantasluxury””

QantasAirways: To enter tell us ‘What is your dream luxury inflight experience? (Be creative!) Answer must include #QantasLuxury. TCs

Prizes were Qantas PJs and a toothbrush. (Note to Qantas – Singapore Airlines give away toothbrushes and bedsocks with every flight) This less than a month after they inconvenienced passengers all over the world.

Hmmmm…..well, tweeters didn’t really need to be encouraged to be creative! This is now the number one trending hashtag in Australia, and not in the way Qantas had hoped. Tweeters have used their creativity and come up with a remarkably wide range of mocking tweets, videos, articles and other ephemera, as well as airing every gripe, complaint and annoyance they may have ever had about Qantas.

John Dean : I want some tips from the social media coordinator of Qantas because that #QantasLuxury tag is booming.

Tommy__MTommy :RT @prebenvision: #QantasLuxury using a platform they have absolutely no knowledge of for promotional purposes and have it blow up in…

One of the most amusing (and popular) is this one:

And of course, the massive FAIL of the #Qantasluxury campaign has reached mainstream media. Part of the issue (apart from the pathetic prizes, lack of acknowledgement about recent issues and the impact they have had on their customers) is the timing. Again, this was pulled out within days of the Qantas pay dispute being referred back to the Industrial Relations tribunal, just over three weeks after they decided to ground the airline worldwide without giving passengers any notice. Someone at Qantas has a seriously poor sense of timing.

Danae Sinclair :#qantasluxury doesn’t look like a hash tag #fail to me – too much amusement & discussion to be considered anything but a #win – for us.

71% payrise for CEO = entire airline grounded worldwide inconveniencing millions of passengers
failure to reach agreement with unions and referred back to Industrial Relations Tribunal = competition talking about the “luxury” of Qantas with (trivial) PJs as a prize.

Is there any way to pull this one back from the brink? Is there some way for Qantas to fix this? The hashtag is out there now and can’t be retrieved. It has a life of its own, being shared among Tweeters who are keeping it going. Would having a decent prize help? Would some sort of apology help? Would the resolution of the pay dispute (without screwing the Australian workers) help?

Maybe something like Air New Zealand’s flashmob safety demonstration could help:

Note to Qantas – Air New Zealand were CREATIVE, AMUSING, SELF-MOCKING……and they gave away FLIGHTS! There are a whole series of these videos on their Youtube channel.

So, back to Qantas. Maybe only time will help. But they need some better PR advice.

Newsflash: maybe this is the solution Qantas are looking for – a new scandal not involving them:
klixplus (Adam McKinnon) : Did Allan Joyce pay Kyle Sandilands to take some twitter heat off #QantasLuxury ? If he did it maybe his first smart move for Qantas!

UPDATE: 23/11/11 1751: Police have suspended investigations into alleged death threats against Qantas Management. Alan Joyce and other senior Qantas management claimed that they had death threats made against them in May this year, and again in October. Mr Joyce alleged this was related to the wage dispute, saying, “Those who are in the business of using threats, violence and intimidation to obtain their industrial ends should know this: these tactics are cowardly and deplorable. They will not work. Anyone who is caught will face the full consequences.”

Transport Workers Union national secretary Tony Sheldon said the union had believed the decision was a stunt from the beginning and claimed the police decision confirmed this. “It is a disgraceful diversion of police resources,” he said. “The truth is now out. The next issue is for the truth to come out on the dodgy claim that Alan Joyce only decided to shut down the aviation industry on October 29. That’s where the real investigation is needed.”

For the full story, click here.

Foreign Exchange

9 11 2011

An old story, and a quick one.

In about 1995 we travelled to Kenya. Due to an engine failure halfway across the Indian Ocean, a diversion, a nineteen hour wait at Perth airport followed by a mad rush to make sure we still made all of connecting flights in Africa, we arrived in Kenya exhausted, jet-lagged and generally very sub-standard. (The story is expanded here.)

We were met at the airport by a very enthusiastic young guide called Fred. Fred and the driver Sam accompanied us from the airport to the hotel in Nairobi, then, realising how exhausted we were, left us to our own devices.

The hotel was amazing, an old colonial building that had been renovated. Wood panelling covered almost every wall. Gin and Tonics were available on request (for the anti-malarial qualities, don’t you know). The uniformed porters carried our luggage into our hotel room and lurked discreetly while we remembered that we needed to tip them.

I should explain, for any non-Australian readers, that in Australia, tipping is not obligatory or even the norm. Australians travelling overseas often struggle with the concept of tipping – when to do it, when not to, how much to give, what if you only have large notes on you, what if it was bad service, etc etc.

So we, in our befuddled brains, tipped the porters a handful of nice crisp Kenyan Shillings – about 20 Shillings in total, and went to bed.

The next morning as we battled the tipping dilemma again over breakfast, we had had enough sleep to mentally do the currency conversions – Kenyan Shillings to US Dollars, US Dollars to Australian Dollars – and were horrified to find that we had in fact tipped the porters a matter of a few cents. They of course had been too discreet to say anything at the time.

Needless to say the service was not so good there after this incident – I suspect word had got around about the really stingy Australians. We were pleased when Fred and Sam came and picked us up and took us out on Safari.

If you liked this post you might also like some more travel posts…..
Arrival in Paris
Caves of Lascaux
Notre Dame
French menus
Standing Stones of Carnac
Les Grottos en France
The Louvre
Eiffel Tower (Tour Eiffel)
Streets of Paris
Arc de Triomphe
Napoleon’s Tomb
Galeries Lafayette

International airlines: Compare and contrast.

8 11 2011

photo credit Sean MacEntee

Over the last almost three decades I have managed to get in a little bit of travelling. Not a lot. Not nearly enough, but some.

This is my opinion and experience of the various airlines we have flown internationally with, keeping in mind that some of these assessments date back to the mid-1980s.

1985: British Airways. I flew from Australia to London via Singapore and Bahrain, and return. Five minutes out of Perth I spilled my rum and coke (I was young, I didn’t know better than to mix spirits with coke), which wasn’t replaced. Bahrain was a refuelling stop at which we were disembarked to walk up and down the airport in front of the armed guards, then frisked before returning to the plane. (Female passengers were frisked by a female officer out of sight of the men.) My first flight – sad I know. Generally OK.

1994: Air New Zealand, to New Zealand and back. Upgraded courtesy of a friend’s frequent flyer points and sat in first class on the way back. Poached salmon, champagne from a real glass, with real china and cutlery. Fabulous!

Dumping fuel into the Indian Ocean - the beginning of a saga

1995: Qantas, Australia to Harare. Return journey via Johannesburg. Halfway across the Indian Ocean we had an engine failure. The pilot dumped fuel into the ocean (I have a photo of it somewhere) and turned back to Perth, where we sat on the tarmac waiting for a new engine to be sourced. For nineteen hours. In our airplane seats. The cricket was in Perth and apparently every hotel room was booked. Eventually they found somewhere and bussed us an hour out of town so we could have four hours sleep, then get bussed back to the airport. Only to find they had lost someone, so they need to unpack the luggage and removed that person’s suitcase. By this stage we were zombies, too tired even to complain. Yes, it was better than crashing.

Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe, from the air

1995: Air Zimbabwe. Between Harare and Nairobi, and Harare to the Victoria Falls. First experience with this airline, the back of the seat in front of me came off in my hands. Hmmm. So long as nothing else falls off. However on the flight to Victoria Falls, we had left our tickets in the hotel room. By the time we got back to the airport with the tickets we had missed our flight so they put us on the next flight. There were apparently some dignitaries on board so as we arrived at Victoria, they got permission to do a couple of circuits over the falls. Spectacular views of the falls from the air! BYO food, if you are hungry.

1997: Singapore Airlines. Australia to Cairo via Singapore. Very very tall, very very slender air hostesses. Excellent service, complimentary Singapore Slings.

1997: Air Egypt. Various places within Egypt including Cairo to Abu Simbel. Like Air Zimbabwe, these planes appear to be a little worse for wear, but generally no problems. I believe it was also BYO food. Short flights, got there without incident, happy.

1998: Singapore Airlines. Australia to Orlando, Florida. Again, great service, very elegant staff. Still the days before personal electronics in the back of the seat, but all survivable.

1998: Some US airline, the memory of the name escapes me. We flew from Orlando to LA, via Washington. I know, not a very direct route. Anyway, it turns out it was Thanksgiving and the plane was almost empty so they let us have a row of seats each and served us the first-class meals, turkey and champagne. Very nice. Given a preference, I would fly every trip lying down. Sigh.

2011: Singapore Airlines. Australia to Paris and return. Again, excellent service, free Singapore Slings. Full electronics in the back of the seat kept the kids (and us all) occupied. Not quite sure why we had to be woken at 3am local time on the return flight, particularly when the children were so difficult to get to sleep in the first place.

2011: Air France. Paris to Naples. Children disappointed that they didn’t have the electronic games that the international flights had. They have already become connoisseurs of international airlines, it would seem.

All in all, no serious incidents, certainly no crashes (touch wood). A lot of discomfort, but some serious long-haul flights were accomplished.

I seriously need some more comparisons…..

Vale Qantas?

30 10 2011

photo credit Chris Bloke

Warning: opinion ahead!
Qantas seems to have put itself into an irretrievable nose-dive.

Gone are the days that the flying kangaroo was lauded on international movie screens by Dustin Hoffman in the movie Rainman. The whole world knew that Qantas was the only airline that had never crashed. Now it is making news for all the wrong reasons.

Yes, Qantas’s safety record remains unsurpassed….but then there haven’t been too many other major crashes in other major airlines recently either. And Qantas has had some scary near-misses which certainly made national news in Australia.

And I have to say I have noticed that choosing to fly Qantas in the last few years has meant joining the longest queue in the airport. Somehow both the other major airlines and the budget carriers manage to no only charge less, they also avoid the inconvenience of having to arrive earlier at the airport and queue for an hour to get your ticket checked and your baggage put on the plane. The smug feeling one used to get flying Qantas is not there when others zip through the check-in and into the bar a good 3/4 hour before you. Particularly if you are trying to keep three children entertained in the queue.

So if it isn’t for the safety record and it isn’t for the service – why am I paying more to fly Qantas? According to the CEO Alan Joyce it is because of pay rates for Australian staff.

But it has to be said (because everyone else has) that awarding the CEO a 71% payrise while in industrial dispute with your employees over pay, conditions ad job security….doesn’t smell like a good PR move. Surely he could have waited a little while until he got his pay bumped up to ~$5million pa? That is a headline pay rate at a time when the company has poor share prices, is in dispute with employees, inconveniencing passengers and making the news broadcasts every night – and not in a good way. Maybe he is right about the pay rates making the company uncompetitive – but then he needs to lead by example.

But the death knell according to tonight’s news is that instead of the unions stopping flights, Qantas itself has grounded flights, inconveniencing thousands of customers. People were actually unloaded from planes they had just boarded. Others are stuck sleeping in terminals, unsure when they can start their holiday (already booked) or return home. Qantas staff were not able to respond to customer complaints and the phone lines were jammed.

And then the news that there was apparently a Jetstar memo regarding the grounding dated a couple of days prior to the shareholder meeting warning that Qantas would be grounding all planes. So it would seem that Jetstar (and therefore Qantas) knew the planes would be grounded, although Qantas was not able to provide any warning to its passengers, unions, employees or the Government.

And it is this poor customer service and lack of respect for the flying customer, both normally and in times of crisis, that will sound the death knell for Qantas. Unless addressed promptly.

I’m glad I don’t own any Qantas shares.