Aegean Airlines deserves to be studied by other Greek companies and even used as a case study by Harvard Business School for excelling in its field.
In a country like Greece, where excellence is regarded as an insult, where long-term strategy has given way to occasional, short term profit, Aegean, the country’s airline, stands out.
And it stands out not merely by a smidgen, but remarkably. It’s like a foreign company that miraculously landed in Greece and is operating in the domestic market as the best foreign airlines do in their markets.
Aegean’s airplanes are clean and tidy, the flight attendants smiling, good-humored, well-dressed and hair trimmed, reminding me of Olympic Airways as it was at is onset, the Olympic of the late Aristotle Onassis.
Contrary to what Olympic transformed into later, Aegean is almost always on time.
During my recent trip to Greece, I traveled with the airline a total of six times. Every flight was on time and the service was impeccable.
The question is, how is excellence achieved? What needs to happen for a business to excel?
Numerous studies have attempted to explain what distinguishes the few companies that achieve excellence from those that do not. These studies identify two main catalysts: the role of leadership in a company and the culture that permeates it.
What do we mean by leadership? Beyond the familiar skills a leader needs to have, to be knowledgeable about the industry, accessible to coworkers, to passionately serve customers, to have a vision, is what I call “moral” leadership.
It is essential that the leader is an example to be followed: to be honorable, hardworking, transparent, behaving according to principles and rules, appreciating coworkers, and respecting customers.
If a leader is the model of excellence, or in a constant effort to achieve it, then a similar culture is created that is spread to his or her colleagues, and positively affects their relationships with those who make everything possible – the customers.
If, on the other hand, the leader is a dictator who moves in a world of opacity, a person who makes minimal effort, who does not have a vision beyond his immediate interest, then that culture is also transferred to colleagues and customers with corresponding consequences.
It is clear, therefore, that in the case of Aegean, the Vassilakis family, and in particular Vice Chairman and Director Eftichis Vassilakis, operate on the basis of the first model with spectacular results.
That Aegean is a business model, and especially in the challenging industry of transportation, is very important for another reason: because it is a pillar on which the development of an economy can stand.
From the ashes of Olympic, which we all loved, and also hated for the endless delays and the lack of service, an excellent airline has emerged, a point of pride for all of us living in and outside of Greece.
I wish it flew to these shores, to New York, as well.
Let us hope that too will happen someday soon.