Zigging when others zag is Christopher Luxon’s key to making Air New Zealand a top global airline. That and a goose called Dave.
He doesn’t mean it literally but the Air New Zealand chief executive is passionate about learning from other companies while keeping his airline’s own style.
“In it but not of it” is his approach.
And it seems to be working with the national carrier topping the list of Australia’s best corporate reputations.
READ MORE: Air New Zealand nabs top spot as most reputable company in … Australia
So what companies does Luxon admire?
“My old firm Unilever has done some pretty amazing things over a long period of time. And General Electric, Disney … companies that people admire and that show how well things can be done,” Luxon said.
He said these were great companies that are “enduringly iconic”, and he wonders why New Zealand was not producing more of them.
“[Perhaps we need to] harden up,” he said, only slightly joking.
He’s also proud to say that Air New Zealand unashamedly visits, watches and steals best practice from other companies globally to benchmark its standards.
For example, cabin crew visit Disney and Celebrity Cruises to pick up customer service tips.
Announcing Air New Zealand’s top spot on the Australian Reputation Index, AMR research group’s managing director Oliver Freedman said it was highly unusual for a “clearly overseas” company to take a spot.
”While former winner Toyota is an overseas company it has been based in Australia and had manufacturing here,” Freedman told the Australian Financial Review.
“But this is a national airline of another country. It’s not even a company that is seen as a global company – it’s a true Kiwi company.”
Freedman put the airline’s strong reputation down to an increased marketing presence in Australia and a strong performance on customer service.
“They’ve created a sense of who they are, they are not just like any other airline.
“We know that if companies are able to promote a message – for them it’s a bit irreverent and a bit humorous – then it can work.”
So back to that goose.
Dave was a marketing campaign launched by the airline last year (with aussie actor Bryan Brown’s voice) to encourage Australians to choose Air New Zealand for travel to North and South America.
Luxon attributes a large part of the corporate reputation survey success to the white bird and while the victory may have prompted pavlova, Phar Lap and Crowded House jokes (for the record, they are all ours) it has a very serious side for Air New Zealand.
“Despite being a relatively small airline in global terms, Air New Zealand continues to punch above its weight by taking great ideas and turning these into world leading product and service offerings that enhance the customer experience,” he said.
For example, the Dave campaign worked, Luxon said, with routes like Auckland to Buenos Aires only being possible because about 40 per cent of passengers start the trip in Australia. (A further 40 per cent start in South America with just 20 per cent being New Zealand travellers).
“It just wouldn’t stand up without the Australia market.”
Luxon wouldn’t share any hints on new routes the airline may be planning, but was adamant there is strong growth potential for Air New Zealand in convincing more Australians to fly with it as a stepping stone to international destinations.
“We need to leverage the geography of New Zealand for long haul routes,” he said, “and build on the connections we have.”
The aussie award was also “testament to all the hard work of Air New Zealand staff who over the past decade have helped build an enviable reputation for the airline globally by delivering our uniquely Kiwi award-winning experience” Luxon said.
Flight Centre NZ managing director, and an Australian, Dave Combs said: “They’ve worked extremely hard at building a reputation”.
“A lot of what they do resonates with Australians … the sense of humour, they’re very innovative and they take pride in representing a proud nation.”
Coombs praised the friendly and low key but quality service Air New Zealand offered and said the fact that Qantas and Virgin also placed in the top 20 of the aussie list showed the high quality of airlines operating in the region.