Facing hard issues and finding win-win solutions
"There is a mission and purpose that I've signed up for that is bigger than myself," says Air New Zealand chief executive Christopher Luxon, when asked to describe his core leadership values.
Luxon, the 2015 Deloitte Top 200 Executive of the Year, is very clear about his success being underpinned by a strong team.
"The most important part of it actually is the casting of the leadership team and I'm really proud of the leadership team we have in place," he says. "My job is just to be the best leader I can be in a team of great leaders."
But there is no doubt Luxon, who is now four years into his time at Air New Zealand, has made an enormous personal contribution to the company and big impact on the local business scene.
After serving as Group General Manager International he took over as chief executive from Rob Fyfe in January 2013.
"You can't deny that Air NZ's financial performance and increase in profitability has coincided with Christopher taking on the role as CEO," says Award Judge Cathy Quinn, chair at Minter Ellison Rudd Watts. "Airlines are seen as difficult business to run profitably. Air New Zealand faces big and large competitors with deep pockets."
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It has been a good run financially, Luxon says. "We've had three or four years of record results and expanding profits. The market cap of the company has almost tripled over the past three years."
In August the airline announced a net profit of $327 million in the 12 months to June, up 24 per cent on the same period last year. Its pre-tax normalised earnings were $496 million, up 49 per cent on the previous year.
But financial results are only one part of it, Luxon says.
"A lot of it is about: how do we take those profits and pour them back into the company to enhance the customer proposition and the culture of the company? When we look at the cultural metrics of how we perform and the customer service metrics as well as the commercial performance those are the three lenses by which we measure success."
Luxon's has been deft at balancing the softer aspects of the good practice with hard-nosed decision making.
We have raised ambition for this company. But we can't do it on our own, so we're working with our union partners in a very different way, we're working with the tourism industry in quite a different way and we're working with our trade partners in a different way.
"Christopher is a CEO who is seen as being willing to face the hard issues, talk about them and be willing to look for win win solutions where possible," Quinn said. "For example, his being willing to front that some routes just do not make business sense to operate unless more demand can be created. Christopher has talked to some regions about their attracting more tourism by holding events in the shoulder season -- that is good for the regions, Air NZ and its customers."
Luxon, 45, grew up in Christchurch and made his name on the international business stage. He rose through the ranks at global food and consumer goods group Unilever -- a company he joined after completing his MBA at Canterbury University.
Prior to joining Air New Zealand he was president and CEO of Unilever Canada.
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In the face of widespread technological disruption of the business world, Luxon says he feels happy to be in a business that knows exactly what it will be doing in five or 15 years.
"We know we will still be an airline and fundamentally the aircraft technology won't change a lot over that time."
But the company this year appointed a chief digital officer and Luxon says the big tech challenge is around how the company interacts with its customers.
Collaboration with the wider business community is also something Luxon has pushed during his time leading Air New Zealand.
He is widely seen as a leader who has engaged with other participants in the sector with a view to improving the experience of tourists to New Zealand, Quinn says.
The company takes a lead role in promoting New Zealand as a tourist destination and has made a big impact marketing itself around high profile Kiwi icons like the All Blacks and the Hobbit movies.
"We have raised ambition for this company. But we can't do it on our own," Luxon says. "So we're working with our union partners in a very different way, we're working with the tourism industry in quite a different way and we're working with our trade partners in a different way."
"I go around the world and people tell us we shouldn't exist anymore. But we do exist because we have tremendous support from the New Zealand people.
"All of Air New Zealand's success is owned by many many people." - Liam Dann
5:00 AM Friday Nov 27, 2015