I read the JetBlue article ("And Now the Hard Part," May) while flying to France on yet another cattle car. Coincidentally, while having breakfast at my hotel, I met and chatted with a JetBlue pilot. During my week in Toulouse, I got to know many of the JetBlue team. They are kind, customer focused, and dedicated to success. Will they succeed? I understand the hurdles as described in the article. But based on my firsthand observations of JetBlue personnel — on the ground — I am betting yes.
Naval Oceanographic Office
Stennis Space Center, Mississippi
In 90% of your article on JetBlue, if you take the name "JetBlue" and replace it with "Southwest Airlines" and take the name "David Neeleman" and replace it with "Herb Kelleher," it could have been an article written 25 years ago on Southwest Airlines and its chairman. Much of Neeleman's modus operandi with his employees and his basic business model isn't so innovative but simply a copy of Southwest. Apparently, he learned a lot during his time there.
Last year, we took our kids down to Florida to visit Grandma and Grandpa on JetBlue. Traveling with three children under the age of 4 is intimidating enough, but imagine getting them through an airport and on and off a plane — not once but twice.
The folks at JetBlue were amazing. They helped carry all of our paraphernalia on and off the plane, made sure our children were all settled in, and even offered us an early snack run. They didn't have to cater to us and the other families on the plane. But they did, and it made our experience all the better. It's that sort of service that made us JetBlue customers for life.
Pound Ridge, New York
You're quite right to point out what a spectacular job David Neeleman has done at JetBlue, against awful odds. And you're also quite right to point out that Neeleman and company have an entirely new set of challenges facing them as JetBlue achieves scale and matures. In particular, JetBlue needs to learn to form the same sort of emotional connection with corporate customers as it currently has with individual passengers.
All too often, business-to-business marketing is viewed as a mechanical exercise based on strictly numerical offers and counteroffers. The fact of the matter is that businesses buy with their hearts as well as their minds, and JetBlue has a unique opportunity in the airline industry to gain "heartshare" with these customers. It doesn't take a genius to market emotion successfully in a B2B context, but it does take courage. Let's hope Neeleman harnesses some of his formidable courage to forge these links successfully.
Bakoven Partners LLC
Winston-Salem, North Carolina
The Clowns Strike Back
I must set the record straight about Seth Godin's opinion on clowns and clowning ("Send in the Clowns," May), because I do not feel that he gets what clowns are all about. As a professional clown for 18 years and as a businessperson, I feel that his analogy is far from accurate. Here's why.
1. Being called a clown is a great compliment no matter what your line of work. It means you have a sense of humor and aren't afraid to share it. His derisive definition of a clown offends what I am and what I do. I hear his definition as meaning dumb, ignorant, and stupid. Clowns are far from stupid. It takes great intellect to see the humor in all situations, good and bad. And I have medical benefits!
2. Clowns do not ignore science. We use many of the basic principles of science. For example, in juggling we use the principle that what goes up must come down. There is no "magic" that can fit 16 clowns in a car; it's science. Spatial relations! We use centrifugal and centripetal forces, inertia, rotation, revolution, momentum, and many other great scientific principles and theories. Kodak shouldn't be called clowns; they should simply be called blind businesspeople with poor leadership.
3. Clowns plan ahead! We spend hundreds of hours practicing and perfecting our craft for the amusement of others. I personally have spent 18 years and thousands of dollars studying and perfecting my craft. That takes careful planning.
Some of the best working environments I have had were with other real clowns. We care about each other and work together to reach a common goal: laughter. That sure beats any other business goal I can think of.
Instead of not being like clowns, maybe people should be more like them! Maybe we should issue red noses. It would lighten things up. And it would certainly make everyone take notice of how utterly ridiculous most arguments are and how working together would be much more effective. So, Seth, before you downgrade the life of a clown, maybe you should walk a mile in my shoes. The offer is open to you any time!
Goodwill ambassador (and clown)
Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus Hometown Edition
I'm not sure what sources Henry Mintzberg consulted prior to writing "The MBA Menace" (June), but before you decided to publish such nonsense, perhaps he would have been better served to learn a little more about the subject matter. His logic is severely flawed and surrounded with absurd untruths. He makes a futile attempt to discredit the value of an MBA degree by stating that a classroom doesn't provide any practical experience, without which you can't be an effective manager.
Well, please allow me to update your information. The average MBA candidate has five years' work experience before he or she even enters into a full-time program. And all of the top-ranked MBA programs provide an abundance of opportunities for students to gain practical experience even as they work through their classroom studies. Case in point: I worked 20 hours a week for two years helping entrepreneurs in the community create business plans and presentations for venture capitalists; I helped Eli-Lilly develop a strategy to spin out a new technology; I wrote a marketing plan for a national consumer-products manufacturer; and I worked for one of the largest companies in the United States on a consulting project for three months. I did all this in addition to having five years' previous work experience and still managed to work through the analytics and case studies of 60 credit hours in the classroom. How much more real "application" would you like before it meets your expectations, Mr. Mintzberg?
Very rarely, a musician can become proficient without first gaining an education in the underlying theory. So too, an occasional, rare "uneducated" manager may surpass the abilities of the "educated." On the whole, though, gaining a more complete understanding of business theories, analytics, and strategies will nearly always serve to reinforce effective management and decision making on the job. Why should we worry about what you value anyhow, when the market has already determined that it values an MBA?
MBA 2004, Purdue University
I enjoy reading Marshall Goldsmith's column every month. The notion of "feedforward" ("Leave It at the Stream," May) is right on the money. So much time is wasted these days on breaking down a team. With feedforward, we could exert less energy and use it in a more positive way. Now that I'm in a new position that thrives on intellectual capital, Goldsmith's experiences help me in my quest to be the answer or idea guy. In my career, I've never really had a mentor who would offer me perspective like his column does.
Director of new business development
George P. Johnson Co.
Let's Put the "Human" Back in HR
John A. Byrne's self-test of his skills as a manager ("Do You Make the Grade?" May) made a very telling point about the importance of this assessment not winding up in the hands of the HR department. Does anyone else see the adversarial nature this reveals? HR has become the enemy of the workforce. It is the enemy one must get past to get a job, and it remains the enemy in trying to keep a job. As smart and enlightened leaders, do we think that this is an appropriate relationship in any of our other departments? So by what logic is it okay for HR to be this way?
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A version of this article appeared in the July 2004 issue of Fast Company magazine.