A spark of decency

It’s a rare thing that we notice someone in the business world who has achievements of real substance but who can be admired for an outstanding sense of ethics. Such a person is Air New Zealand chief executive, Rob Fyfe.

Don’t know the guy and have no connection to him in any way that I’m aware of. But I read this week that he is departing his role and looking for a new career. The 51-year-old should have plenty of options to choose from since he has a great track record and some very intelligent views on success.

The aviation industry is gossiping that Fyfe would be a strong candidate to challenge for leadership of Australia’s flag carrier, Qantas. The Flying Kangaroo was shaken to its core when incumbent boss, Alan Joyce, without warning shut down operations globally in a bitter fight with unions. The action stranded passengers right around the globe, badly damaging the airline’s reputation and jeopardising its brand strength.

But Fyfe will have none of that and it is his reasoning that is exemplary. He has a moral view that, having been the personification of the Air New Zealand brand, it would be unethical to then compete against it. It’s a beautiful sentiment. And so rare.

What’s more, with a pay packet of the best part of $10 million potentially attaching to the Qantas job, we can discern that Fyfe is very sincere in his beliefs. Good on him; the business world needs more strength of character like this.

Some of Fyfe’s other views on how to run a successful business are wonderful, too. He has no illusion that it’s all about the employees. His mantra is to give them ‘the confidence, the skills, the responsibility, the opportunity every day to make a difference’. His aim has been to have employees come to work each day ‘wanting to create a fabulous, memorable experience’.

As for leadership of a workforce, Fyfe says too many corporate high-flyers are afraid to express a bold personality. Instead, they shun the limelight and adopt a buttoned-down, risk-averse approach that, almost by default, robs them of the mantle of leadership.

He says that to attract customers you need to have your organisation be perceived as having a personality and ‘some sense of a human face to it’.

It begs us all to question what values we want the organisations we are engaged with to exhibit and what value we bring to them. It should always be a two-way process.

There is more that Fyfe has to say and it all makes a lot of sense. He has proved it works and there are good lessons for us all in his wisdom.


Acknowledgement: Steve Creedy, Aviation Writer, The Australian, 11 December 2012.