We are in a business that’s been here for around 100 years. Even in India, we are often called the sunrise industry. I am the youngest CEO of the youngest airline which is only 6 years old. Clearly the opportunity is actually staring at us. India has gone from being an oppressed colony to the next superpower. India is seen as the next engine of growth for the world. Irrespective of which area you are in and what are the economic troubles in that area, these troubles open certain opportunities. During the 2nd world war many companies got devastated and businesses were shut down and then some people built tanks, weapons, ships & jeeps and they made a lot of money from that. In every era including this we have to deal with the problems by seeking out an opportunity in each of those problems.
India is a country with population of over billion people but there are less than 500 commercial planes. There’s something wrong in this equation. USA is a country which is 1/3rd in size to India in terms of population but it has around 13000 commercial planes. India is therefore one of the under- penetrated aircraft market in the world. Less than 1% of rail traffic in India flies by Air, that means if we can convert 1% of rail traffic into air, we will need double the size of airlines in business that exists in India today. That is the opportunity we are chasing at Indigo. But like we all know that life is not perfect and it is never meant to be easy. There are few challenges that we face. We are aware of the economy slowdown and also concerned about the crazy fuel prices.
How do we take something as mundane as getting into a plane to something slightly innovative and make it more customer-friendly experience. At indigo we don’t have a strategy team, we don’t have a marketing department, we have only one secretary, we don’t have a vision statement and to top it all a 36 year old lawyer is running this airline.
There are no limits to how much you can innovate. What is the key to it is how you create the culture of innovation. How do you let people make mistakes so they have a power to think out of the box? One of my favourite quote is by Michael Jordan who said “I have failed over & over & over again in my life, and that is why I succeed”. We need to create a culture where people are allowed to make the same mistake again without being fearful. The only difference when you make a mistake the 3rd time is that it takes less time to realise that you made a mistake and this helps in encouraging people to think differently. If I am scared of making a mistake, I will never start thinking slightly out of the box. That is antithetical to creating a culture of innovation. So, first we have got to enable people to make that mistake and empower people to do things on their own and this will help people to follow the culture of innovation.
We have a unique challenge in our business: Less than 10% of our employees sit in one office, even If I have to do a webcast 50% of my colleagues are either flying on a plane or doing something more important than listening to me. So, I have to find a way to reach out. We have even more unique challenge. One of our customer said I love the way the check-in staff comes up and talks to me and that’s a unique challenge. In many businesses when you have the most important customer walk in through the door, you have the CEO receiving him. For me when the most important customer travels in Indigo, the senior most people at Indigo that that person ever meet is a check-in agent, a ramp staff or a flight attendant. So how do we ensure or how do we create a culture where each one of those people feels empowered. In the word empowerment is the power and for me power is the power to make a change, the power to make a change in their life and the power to make a change in the customer’s life. And that’s what makes them to think differently.
The core of innovation is to give others the ability and power to make a change. At the end of the day I am asking my colleagues to trust me because every decision I make affects them. We have 6000 employees; those 6000 people have around 4 members in their family. So every decision I make affect 24000 people. So I ask them to trust me and in return I trust them to deliver their best. All of us are chasing a dream at Indigo, and every day when we work we should get a satisfaction of getting an inch closer to our dream and if that happens we would never restrain ourselves to think differently and to follow the culture of innovation.
The above article is an excerpt from the speech delivered by Mr. Aditya Ghosh, President, Indigo Airlines at AIMA’s 39th National Management Convention which was held in September 2012.