Four Seasons and Azul focus on customers

David Neeleman and Katie Taylor on the importance of having direct contact with customers

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Whether catering to a select few or serving a mass market, the hospitality and travel industries revolve around the customer, no matter which end of the price spectrum you're at.

David Neeleman's name is synonymous with the North American airline industry and affordable air travel.

Over the past three decades, he has co-founded and worked with companies including Morris Air, Southwest Airlines and Jet Blue.

In 2008, he expanded to Brazil, the country of his birth, founding low-cost airline Azul, which offers passengers the opportunity to travel by air at a price that can rival that of coach travel.

Katie Taylor's clientele, on the other hand, expects every luxury to meet their needs.

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Ms Taylor is the chief executive of Canada's Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts.

What started in 1961 as a motel in the bohemian outskirts of Toronto, has grown into a global luxury chain, with hotels from Shanghai to St Petersburg, and from Beirut to Buenos Aires.

Expanding businesses

Though servicing different types of client, both Azul and Four Seasons have experienced rapid growth.

In just four years, Azul has grown to rival the likes of Brazil's Tam Airways, becoming the third major airline in the country. Over the past decade, domestic air travel in Brazil has nearly doubled, and Mr Neeleman feels there is considerable scope for further growth both domestically and internationally.

Ms Taylor first joined Four Seasons as an in-house lawyer in 1989. Earmarked early on in her career by founder Isadore Sharp as his eventual successor, she took over from him as chief executive in 2010.


  • Low-cost Brazilian airline established by serial aviation entrepreneur David Neeleman
  • Established: 2008
  • HQ: Sao Paulo, Brazil
  • Revenue: $2bn (£1.24bn)
  • Number of employees: 9,000
  • Fact: 17 million people flew with Azul last year across Brazil

Since then, she has made plans to open 50 hotels in less than a decade across all territories, including China, Azerbaijan and Tanzania.

Customer feedback is vital to both businesses, and Mr Neeleman says there is nothing he likes better than to get on planes and talk to customers.

"Every flight I take, I let them know I'm on board, I go through the cabin, I thank them for their business.

"I say, 'Please give me your complaints, your compliments, I want to hear it all.'

"I can't fix something if I don't know if it's broken," he says.

Staff matters

For Ms Taylor, the voice of the employee is just as important as the voice of the customer.

"We do employee opinion surveys, which talk to employees about how they're feeling about the company generally and their place of work," she says.

Four Seasons

  • Global luxury hotel brand
  • Established: 1961
  • HQ: Toronto, Canada
  • Revenue: $3.8bn
  • Number of employees: 35,000
  • Fact: The company began as a motel in downtown Toronto, built by architect and founder Isadore (Issy) Sharp

"But we also do management opinion surveys and we ask employees directly about how their managers are performing and whether or not they're getting the kind of support they need, the leadership they need."

Mr Neeleman too values the importance of his staff. When he was in his 30s, he found out that he had attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

As a result, he makes sure he surrounds himself with "people who can dot all the Is and cross all the tees and can push back on you, and say, 'That's a really stupid idea,' [or,] 'That's a great idea.'"

And together they seem to be doing a good job. Azul was the first airline in history to carry two million passengers during its first year of business.

It may not provide the same luxury service that Ms Taylor's Four Seasons does, but it hopes to build itself into just as well-known a brand.

The Ideas Exchange is an eight-part series, starting on 1 September, broadcast on BBC World News on Saturdays at 02:30 and 15:30, and Sundays at 09:30 and 21:30 (all times GMT).

Every week, two international business leaders meet to talk about their different experiences of global markets and business.

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