What does the spirit of Australia mean to you?
To me, ‘spirit of Australia’ is a statement summarising a variety of values:
- mateship – looking out for each other, pitching in when needed, enjoying each other’s company
- Aussie-battlers – the vast majority of us who do have to work to earn the money that helps us make ends meet in order to realise our own dreams
- courage – running into battles that may already be lost but must be fought to uphold principles
- honesty – or as it is colloquially known and understood ‘no bullsh*t’
- diversity – where the vast majority of us bring the blood of different lands to the betterment of Australia
- innovation – driven by our nature to challenge processes
On almost a daily basis, it seems, there is a new book, blog or ebook published that reminds us that when we are in crisis, we must take the time to look inward, remind ourselves of our values and undertake the very difficult and confronting task of auditing our behaviour and alignment against those values. This applies equally to business as it does to people.
Qantas seems to me the latest company that has forgotten its values, even perhaps has turned its back on them. Hardly surprising given their values are almost impossible to find on their website. In fact, I’m not actually sure I ever did find clearly articulated values. I found customer charters and corporate governance statements and their constitution, but no values. I also eventually found their vision. Finally I found this terrific little ‘5 pillars‘ type diagram describing those elements that will deliver the capstone of ‘sustainable returns to shareholders’ which, I might add, is quite different to the 5 pillars recently released to the ASX. It doesn’t really matter which 5 pillars they’re following this week…they both have the ultimate goal of shareholder returns perched precariously above the pointed capstone as if it were a see-saw. And indeed I’m sure shareholders do feel that’s exactly what they’re riding.
As a client, frequent flyer, lifetime member of Qantas Club (not that THAT actually means anything special) and non-shareholder I can’t help but observe this strategic direction as being quite the opposite of the ‘spirit of Australia’. Perhaps better described as the scourge of Australia, it seems destined to take yet another Australian icon, hand it over to international management and then wrap it all up so perhaps another ‘newly created’ administration company can come and sort out the final death throes.
Seriously, am I the only person who is looking at what’s going on and feeling a bit of déjà-vu? I loved Ansett and only ever joined Qantas because, idealist that I am, I figured that there was no way such a strongly government supported, Australian owned company could ever fail to deliver on its ‘Spirit of Australia’ promise, not after the (surely) lessons learnt from Ansett’s demise.
Yet here they are, boarding their flight to Asia as we stand on the concourse waving our hankies in the air and wiping stray tears from our eyes wondering if they will ever book their return flight. Thank you Alan. And thank you, too, board members. Your dedication to the 20th century economic model of growth, growth, growth has allowed you to react in the only way you know to the building pressure of institutional investors. Don’t worry about mum and dad investors – no other oligopoly does, why should you? And certainly don’t worry about client sentiment!
As I welcomed my guests to dinner last night half of whose Qantas 2pm scheduled Sydney departure arrived at 7pm in Brisbane, whereas the other half arrived on time (at 3.30pm) via Virgin, I couldn’t help but wonder who is living by their values. I guess, given it took me about 3 seconds to find Virgin’s values on their site, we can work the answer out pretty easily.
Here’s the kicker dear execs of Qantas. Growth ≠ Sustainable. Have a little read of Umair Haque’s The New Capitalist Manifesto. Explore the 21st century ideas of value cycles, value conversations, philosophies, completion and betters if you would really, truly like to reinvigorate your leadership position as the premium Australian Airline.
In the meantime, good luck to you Virgin. Your execs have clearly seen this coming a mile off and your timing and positioning is admirable.