David Neeleman, Chairman & CEO
Neeleman founded the little airline that could. JetBlue recently broke into the top 10 U.S. carriers based on revenue passenger miles.
What one factor is most important to success?
Some people measure success in how much money you make, but I don’t measure success that way. I measure success in whether you’ve made a difference, in whether you’ve built something people love to work for and love to do business with. If you do that, then you make more money in the process. Measure success by creating something in your personal life, or your business life, where you matter, where your company matters, where your customers care that you exist, and that your crewmembers or employees love to work there.
What do you look for in an employee?
We want someone who has a good attitude, a can-do attitude, someone who’s a people person. Someone who likes to be with people, likes to serve people. We’re in the service business, that’s what we’re in. So if you don’t like people, you need not apply—we’re not interested in having you come work here, that’s our biggest requirement.
What’s the best way to save money?
Sometimes you have to spend money to save money. It’s counterintuitive, but can you spend more money to get better people? And by doing that you end up saving money because your people are more efficient, and they do a better job.
What’s the best way to spend money?
The best way to spend money is to not scrimp with your people, and to give them good benefits—then they work harder and do a better job for you.
What’s your greatest pleasure?
I have a bevy of children and a great family, and that’s really important to me. But also it’s creating a company where people love to work.
What’s the first thing you do when you wake up in the morning?
Check my Blackberry, see if anything happened overnight. We have a lot of planes flying overnight, so I check to make sure the weather’s good and we’re going to be okay for today’s operation.
How do you deal with stress?
I have a great faith in God and a great faith that there’s a greater plan than what we’re doing here. I don’t want to get in the thick of thin things. Really, it helps me to look at this world more three-dimensionally, as opposed to a two-dimensional one, as opposed to saying, “What’s here is here, and what’s not is not.” That helps me a lot.
What one lesson do you hope to pass on to your children?
I think the one lesson is to just treat everybody the same. I have a real problem with this whole class distinction and treating people differently. I want my children to respect a human being because they’re a human being, and not because of how much money they have. And I think those are people who are more happy, too. If you’re into treating people poorly, I don’t think that’s a good way to live your life.
How do you bounce back from adversity?
I think you have to try to figure out if there’s a silver lining. Probably the most adverse day we’ve had was 9/11, and we could have just folded up our tent and said, “We don’t want to do this anymore.” But instead we thought, you know, let’s figure out this system, where the weaknesses are, where the vulnerabilities are. In every situation where you have adversity, you have to say, okay, it’s not what’s happening to us, it’s how we’re going to react to it. It’s then trying to figure out a way to learn some lessons from it, and maybe become safer than you were before.
What’s your favorite thing about Queens?
I’ve got lots of things I like about Queens. I like the food, I like the people. You know, it’s got two airports in it for us to fly into. It’s the place we do business, it’s where our headquarters is. I’m happy to say we’re headquartered here, we’re proud to be here.
Neeleman founded JetBlue Ailrlines, one of the most successful aviation companies in the U.S. (at a time when the words “successful” and “aviation” rarely appear in the same sentence). The innovative company, which earned about $47.5 million last year, is headquartered at JFK International Airport. It offers cheap, one-class flights, and prides itself on friendly flight attendants, leather seats, and Direct TV for every passenger.