Irishman Alan Joyce is the CEO of Qantas Airways, the $16 billion company headquartered in Sydney, Australia. For more than ten years as CEO, Joyce has led the company to dizzying heights of growth in the incredibly turbulent airline industry.
His most recent leadership act, however, may be his best. It has a lot to do about emotional intelligence and the importance of customer relations even in the crosshairs of competitive threats. But I believe there is something even greater that Joyce is demonstrating.
Alex Jacquot is 10-years old and the self-appointed CEO of Australia’s newest airline company, Oceania Express. Seeking advice on how to run his new airline, Jacquot wrote a letter to Joyce. In it, Jacquot announces he has appointed a CFO, vice-CEO, a Head of IT, and even a Head of Legal.
I’m certain the Oceania Express’s Head of Legal approved the letter to Joyce.
The questions this ten-year-old aviation boy wonder asked Joyce were wide-ranging:
- First, being on school holiday, Jacquot wonders what he should be doing as CEO, given he has “more time to work with.”
- Second, Jacquot is looking for a few tips on starting an airline, stating, “I’d be very grateful to know what you have to say.”
- And third, Jacquot is curious about the Sydney/Melbourne to London flight on the new A350 airplane, and is “having a lot of trouble thinking about sleep.” He wishes for advice from Joyce on what to do for the passengers over the gruelling 25-hour flight.
With over 30,000 Qantas employees to deal with, thousands of suppliers and partners throughout the globe, let alone the more than 55 million passengers he is ultimately responsible for on an annual basis, clearly Joyce is a busy CEO. Why bother answering Jacquot’s letter, when a) he’s only 10-years old and b) he’s an up-and-coming competitive threat?
Did the CEO of Qantas Airways throw Jacquot’s letter into the bin?
Not a chance. On February 19, 2019, he wrote back. Here’s how the letter opened:
“Thank you for letting me know about your new airline. I had heard some rumours of another entrant in the market, so I appreciate you taking the time to write. First, I should say that I’m not typically in the business of giving advice to my competitors. Your newly-appointed Head of Legal might have something to say about that, too. But I’m going to make an exception on this occasion, because I too was once a young boy who was so curious about flight and all its possibilities.”
Not only did Joyce take the time to write back, but he also demonstrated what so many senior leaders forget about: love.
By simply writing to the boy, Joyce demonstrates a love for his role, his industry, and that of people interested in aviation. In this case, that love extends to Jacquot, his ten-year-old rival CEO. If Joyce didn’t love his role—or possessed a deep love for Qantas, customer relations, and aviation in general—I suspect there would never have been a return letter.
Further down his response, Joyce tackles one of Jacquot’s questions about the long flight between Australia and London.
“This is something we are grappling with too, as we embark on Project Sunrise (which is our plan to fly passengers non-stop between the east coast of Australia and London.) To help with sleep, we’re looking at different cabin designs that give people spaces to stretch out and exercise. We want to think up as many ideas as possible to make the journey more comfortable for all.”
When you love what you do, I guess you’re keen to share it with whomever.
By example, Joyce then invited Jacquot to Qantas headquarters for “a Project Sunrise meeting between myself, as the CEO of Australia’s oldest airline, and you, as the CEO of Australia’s newest airline.”
No word yet on how that meeting between CEOs turned out, but at the very root of this story is Joyce’s touching example of compassion.
It’s also a clear-cut example of love-based leadership, the basis for my next book currently under development.