Within six months of Jet Blue’s first flight, on February 11, 2000, the airline was making a profit; and when the airline went public in 2002, Founder Dave Neeleman’s stake was worth $140 million dollars. Then, in 2007, three months after an ice storm at JFK kept JetBlue planes on the tarmac idling for hours (some for up to 11 hours), JetBlue’s board asked Neeleman to step down as CEO.
In response, Neeleman took his ambitions overseas and kept busy successfully building Azul SA (“blue” in Portuguese) an airline in Brazil. In a market previously dominated by two carriers and high prices, Azul found an audience:
As Neeleman can’t resist pointing out, Azul’s 30% market share in Brazil is six times JetBlue’s in the U.S. When Azul went public in 2017, it issued two classes of stock. Neeleman made sure to retain a majority of the voting shares, ensuring that the board can never wrest control away from him.
Now, at what Neeleman hopes is the conclusion of a global pandemic, he is coming back to the U.S. to his hometown of Salt Lake City to launch a new discount airline: Breeze Airways. The airline is set up to cut costs as much as possible. Per a fantastic article in Bloomberg Businessweek:
The customer service personnel will work from home, just as at JetBlue, and be minimal in number. Passengers will be encouraged to do everything from checking bags to rescheduling flights through the Breeze smartphone app. The flight attendants will be college interns, supplied through a partnership with Utah Valley University. They’ll get a scholarship, a salary, free lodging, and one paid trip home per month. “And then when they graduate, they can apply for another job in the company,” Neeleman says, “or they have some great work experience and they can go and do something else.” Breeze, for its part, will have a cheap, dependent, continually replenished onboard workforce in an industry where wages climb with seniority—Breeze gets older, to paraphrase Richard Linklater, while the flight attendants stay the same age.
The article cites Neeleman as the world’s most successful living airline entrepreneur. Asked what it’s like to work for him, Azul CEO John Rodgerson responds, “It’s like working with an 8-year-old that’s a genius. He’s onto one thing, he’s onto another thing. You want to strangle the 8-year-old at times, but he’s generally right.” This should make for a great story to follow.