Interview with David
Neeleman, CEO of JetBlue
All you have to do is compare the lines at the
airport; JetBlue is leading the way in the air travel world. Education
Update recently had a chance to speak with the man who created
Update: Tell us about your education.
David Neeleman (DN): My
schooling was actually not very long. I graduated from high
school and after that attended the University of Utah for
one year. I was fortunate enough to go on a church service
mission to Brazil for two years. When I came back, I had
the intention of going back to college but ended up starting
a small company that really took off. I never actually graduated
Update: Who were some of your mentors?
DN: I had
a difficult time in school because I had what was later diagnosed
as Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD). I didn't really get
good grades or do well on standardized tests.
My 4th grade
teacher, Miss Hatfield, told me “All
you need to do is grow up, be successful and hire someone to
organize your life. You can do really well, you just need some
help with your organization.” She said, ‘If you
can get to that point you can be really successful in life.'
She saw the seeds of success in me early on and knew that even
though I wasn't doing well scholastically, I had certain abilities.
Update: Can you describe your first airline
DN: The airline that I was first involved
in was a travel business that ultimately had 41 employees,
did about 6 to 8 million dollars a year in sales at the time.
I didn't have any background in travel or business and was
only 22. Suddenly the
airline called and told me we were out of business. A travel
agency then contacted me to help them do the same thing I had
done at the first business. I was there for 10 years and created
a very successful airline called Morris Air. I learned a lot
of lessons from the first business. We later sold that company
to Southwest Airlines for 130 million dollars. It's the only
airline that Southwest has ever purchased.
Update: You have nine children so obviously
schooling must be very important to you. What is your involvement
in the schools?
on the Pencil board and had the privilege of being “Principal for a Day” at Martin
Van Buren high school in Queens. They always want to show you
the kids that are the best and the brightest in the school,
but I wanted to meet the kids with the learning disabilities,
to talk to them and let them know that I didn't do well in
school but that I worked hard and tried my best—and now
all the kids that did better than I did are working for me!
I just tell them to work their hardest, not to use their disability
as a crutch, and to keep a great attitude. We don't hire intelligence
at JetBlue. We hire attitudes. People with good attitudes are
the ones that can really get the job done.
Update: What advice would you give to students
who have problems?
give up. Do your best in whatever you do. If you show up
to work on time with a good attitude you're already better
than 80% of people out there. Don't get discouraged. People
who have a good attitude and take care of each other are
Update: What is your formula for success?
formula is all about its people. You have to take care of
your people first. By taking care of them, and treating them
right, and making sure they have a good place to work where
they feel they are respected and that they're valued, their
opinion matters, etc., then they go out and take care of
the customer. The customer feels that so then they come back
and everybody wins.
Update: What type of training do your employees
set high expectations. We tell our employees, “We're
going to take really good care of you but we expect a lot
from you as well. We expect you to treat our people well
and take care of our customers.” We have profit sharing
so everyone at JetBlue feels like they're an owner…because
they are. They own a piece of the company. You hire the right
people, you train them well, pay them well, make them feel
like they're part of the team, and success follows.
Update: Who was it that attracted you to
the airline field?
the only guy I know who started three airlines and never
worked for one. I didn't really have any mentors. I think
the gift and the curse of ADD is that on the one hand you
have a deficiency that make people wonder how you survived,
but you also have the creativity streak that other people
don't have. I've always been able to look at a situation,
simplify it to the lowest common denominator and really see
what the possibilities are. I'm the person who invented e-tickets.
Morris Air was the first airline to ever have e-tickets.
Update: Do you feel that the other airlines
are emulating your formula?
For us, we know that it's more than putting a TV in the seatback
or coming up with slick marketing or painting the plane a
different color. It's really the experience people have on
the plane every day—that's not usually something that
can be duplicated. Competition hasn't really affected us
Update: What was the magnitude of JetBlue's
suffering after 9/11?
was during the beginning of our company. We just stuck to
our principles of taking care of our customers and it worked
out fine. We were able to succeed in a very difficult business.
It's a great testament to if you do things for the right
reason, you'll be successful. We've done a lot better than
our competitors since that time.
Update: When JetBlue began, it had a limited
number of cities that it flew to. What cities are next on
don't really discuss cities we are going to fly to for competitive
reasons. We have a lot of places that we want to fly into.
We're getting a new plane, a 100-seater (not your typical
uncomfortable, scary smaller plane), that can stimulate more
markets, and when we do, it's really going to afford us an
opportunity to add new cities and increase frequencies to
smaller cities. We have noticeable holes in our out-system,
in the mid-west and mid-Atlantic regions, so we'll be going
into those places quite a bit.
Update: Do you encounter problems getting
access to airports?
DN: I haven't really found it to be a problem.
Maybe just about 3 or 4 airports in the whole country that
we have problems getting access into.
Update: How did you find out you had ADD?
DN: When I found out I had ADD in my early
30's, I was quite relieved. Up to that point I thought I just
wasn't very smart. My little brother was diagnosed with it,
and when he was diagnosed, my mother sent me a book by Ned
Hallowell, a now friend of mine. When I read the criteria for
those with ADD, I knew immediately I had it.
Update: What are your thoughts on the corporate
link/responsibility to education?
DN: I think it's important. JetBlue's going
to do some things for Martin Van Buren High School such as
go there and help with the computers and host a trip out to
the airport for a career day. JetBlue employees can then answer
questions from the students on how they got their jobs. It's
important to give back. What I saw in that school were teachers
that were really making a difference in the lives of these
Update: What are some of your hobbies? What
do you do in your free time?
I don't have any free time. I'm very involved in my church.
I have 9 children. I'm very busy with this company. I'd say
my kids are my hobby.#