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Flying High: How JetBlue Founder and CEO David Neeleman Beats the Competition... Even in the World's Most Turbulent Industry 1st Edition

4.2 out of 5 stars 32 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0471655442
ISBN-10: 0471655449
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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

As the founder by the age of 40 of three successful discount airline companies-most recently the billion-dollar JetBlue-David Neeleman and his story deserves in-depth analysis. Unfortunately, this largely uncritical profile doesn’t provide that. Veteran aviation and business writer Wynbrandt presents Neeleman’s life in a lively and highly readable style. The first half lays out the details of Neeleman’s major successes: turning the small leisure business Morris Travel into a national air charter by developing the concept of ticketless reservations, which Wynbrandt correctly claims "would forever revolutionize airline bookings," and brokering a deal with Southwest Airlines, which purchased Morris and then cut Neeleman loose. But the bulk of the book describes the development and success of JetBlue and presents a superficial look at some extremely troubling aspects of Neeleman’s business philosophy, such as his disdain for unions ("I think they did a great thing for our country at a certain time") and his allowing JetBlue to share records of five million passenger transactions (a violation of its own privacy policy) with an army contract company working on post-9/11 security problems, a decision Wynbrandt too easily explains as a product of Neeleman’s Mormon-based "respect for patriarchal authority."
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

Review

As veteran airlines writer James Wynbrandt shows in his excellent new book, Flying High, it took JetBlue's hyperkinetic free spirit David Neeleman to extend the revolution started by Southwest's Herb Kelleher into a heady new frontier—by putting the discounters in a nose-to-nose rivalry with the major carriers. A devout Mormon with nine children, Neeleman, from Salt Lake City, learned about customer service as a kid on a milk crate in his grandfather's convenience store. When customers demanded a product his granddad didn't have, young David would bolt out the back door to Safeway to buy it. After a stint as a missionary in Brazil, Neeleman—a college dropout with ADD—started a travel agency, a charter airline to Hawaii, and a low-cost carrier called Morris Air, which he sold to Southwest. After just five months, Kelleher fired Neeleman, who'd barge into meetings and loudly lecture Southwest's proud managers on where their airline was screwing up.
By the time he founded JetBlue in 1999, Neeleman had already pioneered many of the boldest innovations in aviation, including e-ticketing, automatic ticket machines, and at-home reservation staffs. Backed by farsighted investors, among them George Soros, JetBlue busted the biggest myth in airlines by proving that a low-cost carrier can also beat the majors on service. While Wynbrandt clearly idolizes Neeleman as a curious blend of saint and gladiator, his idol does deserve our gratitude. It took this hyperactive dreamer to put a fresh face on a tired industry, to show at long last that customers, not old-line carriers, are charting the future of commercial aviation. (Fortune, June 28, 2004)
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 312 pages
  • Publisher: Wiley; 1 edition (July 5, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0471655449
  • ISBN-13: 978-0471655442
  • Product Dimensions: 6.3 x 1.1 x 9.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (32 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,089,013 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Robert Morris HALL OF FAMETOP 100 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on August 26, 2004
Format: Hardcover
This really isn't a biography of David Neeleman (pronounced "Neel-Mun"). Rather, Wyndbrant carefully integrates relevant information from both Neeleman's life and his career to explain JetBlue's success to date. Neeleman would be the first to point out that, in the airline industry (de-regulated since October 28, 1978), it is a fool's errand to predict which airlines today are totally secure and which are doomed. All airlines have problems which vary only in nature and degree. However, JetBlue is probably in better shape than most others are even as Neeleman explains that how it can become better while becoming larger "is the question that we're wrestling with at JetBlue, and I think it's something that we focus on a lot." He adds, "I believe we are going to be able to...have a thriving, prosperous company, that we're setting the standard in what we're doing in customer service, and that we'll continue to grow in the future."

Of special interest to me is what Wyndbrant reveals about the major influences on Neeleman's life and career, notably his membership in the Church of Latter Day Saints, his career successes (e.g. leadership of WestJet and then Morris Air) as well as career failures (e.g. bankruptcy and liquidation of The Hawaii Express and being fired by Southwest Airlines), the impact of having A.D.D., and his efforts to plan, obtain financing for, and then launch JetBlue.

With regard to JetBlue's business model, it clearly indicates what Neeleman learned during his associations with the three airlines (WestJet, Morris, and Southwest Airlines). According to Wyndbrant, as JetBlue was about to be launched at John F.
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Format: Hardcover
Very readable and highly entertaining. I haven't even flown on JetBlue, but was curious about the company's history because everyone seems to be talking about it. I was pleased to find that the book offered a combination of JetBlue's history and the CEO's own journey in the business. I really like his way of doing business and how he treats his employees and customers. Hopefully other company executives will read this and apply some of JetBlue's practices as well.
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Format: Hardcover
Flying High reads more like an authorized biography than a work of edgy journalism. Mr. Neeleman appears to have very few faults. He rarely experiences failure, has no sense of greed, and is motivated almost exclusively by the betterment of mankind. I'm a little suspicious that the marketing department at JetBlue may have helped just a bit with this book.

My suspicions aside, the book does have redeeming qualities. First, Mr. Neeleman has been undeniably successful at launching airlines -- an impressive feat. I find it particularly impressive since he is not an airline industry veteran. Second, Mr. Neeleman has built a culture at JetBlue based on a well-defined set of core values. These values are obvious to anyone who has flown this young airline. The chapter on JetBlue's values, "Preserving the Culture," is the best part of the book. Third, Mr. Neeleman relies on technology to stay ahead of the aging airline industry. The book isn't about technology per se, but it makes a pretty good case for aggressive uses of IT. Finally, Flying High is a quick read. A round-trip from JFK to Oakland should give you plenty of time to get through it.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Update: having now read the book by Peterson Blue Streak: Inside jetBlue, the Upstart that Rocked an Industry, it's clear that hers is the better book. I am downgrading Wybrandt's to three stars.

****

After going back and forth between thinking three stars or four, I figure four. The downsides are these:

As others have noted, to the extent this covers Neeleman, it's a hagiography. The man apparently walks on water. To the extent it covers JetBlue, it doesn't dig extremely deep and accepts JetBlue marketing material at face value. And arguably, it was published too early -- In 2004, the airline was barely four years old. The excellent books on Michael O'Leary and Ryanair by Creaton Ryanair: How a Small Irish Airline Conquered Europe and Ruddock Michael O'Leary: A Life in Full Flight were written in about the same timeframe, but about an airline (Ryanair) that was far further into its redevelopment as a low-cost carrier. Four years after Wynbrandt's book Neeleman was ejected from JetBlue. Today, Neeleman's lieutenant, Barger, has also left the carrier in the wake of some unhappiness by investors (check out JetBlue's stock price since it went public and you can understand why). Today, JetBlue clearly still bears the stamp of Neeleman's original vision, but has also changed in ways that would be unthinkable at its founding (including having a lie-flat first class section on some routes).
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