Down To Earth

Aditya Ghosh has managed to make India fly while remaining remarkably down to earth and approachable. With InterGlobe Aviation Limited (IndiGo), Ghosh is helping India’s booming middle class take to off to the skies, all while opening up a whole new market up to the budget airline concept.

The success story of Aditya Ghosh has a lot to do with a cucumber-sandwich. Only a few weeks ago, he met an Indian customer while flying on one of his airline’s planes. The passenger complained that he was considering changing airlines because his favorite in-flight meal was not sold on board anymore. Ghosh, only 38 years old and the president of IndiGo – India’s only profitable airline – spends a lot of his time on board planes and at airports. He does not love airplanes, but he loves his job.

«In India, leaders and CEOs in general associate themselves much more with their companies than in Europe,» he explains. Ghosh is IndiGo. And IndiGo is Ghosh.

He sees himself as the head of a big family with 7,000 members – and growing. On his jacket he wears a black badge with the slogan «Girl Power» – right next to a small golden Indian flag pin. Around 40% of IndiGo’s employees are women. A third of the company’s leaders are women. Ghosh might be the most female- friendly male CEO in India. Even when he travels abroad to Switzerland to talk about his success in a hot conference room, he is surrounded by 10 Indian fans. Passenger loyalty is one of the company’s main goals. He has replaced his marketing budget with the power of personal recommendations. And his company makes a profit – US$ 130 million in 2011.

In a highly competitive market, IndiGo has managed to stand out amongst its competitors. «We are simply more reliable than others,» Ghosh explains. In fact, according to Indian government data from 2009, IndiGo is amongst the airlines with the fewest delayed flights. Ghosh, on the other hand, insists his business is about long-term thinking. He bought more than 200 new planes at a time when IndiGo only owned about 60. Every six to seven years, the new planes are to be sold again, to ensure the fleet meets the highest safety standards. Furthermore, IndiGo recently started a project to make customers pay extra fees that will be invested in projects to fight climate change.

Asked whether his airline has its own magazine, Ghosh says no. «We have enough money to publish one,»he says, pausing. «But our decision was more about the additional weight we would add to the plane by carrying magazines. We try not to burn too much fuel.» That decision is partly shaped by India’s high fuel prices and partly by the airline’s willingness to lower its impact on the environment. Ghosh has a clear vision for his company which is built on details. To him, caring about details is necessary to succeed in a broader context.

Ghosh himself grew up under difficult conditions. When his father retired, the young entrepreneur had to earn money on his own to finance his law studies. «When I started my career at IndiGo I was a shareholder’s nightmare: a lawyer, who had never worked in business,» Ghosh says, laughing. «When I got the job offer, my friends said: ‘This will look awesome on your CV!’ I was a bit more cautious, with a possible future as an unemployable ex-manager in mind.»

Ghosh says every evening he looks at himself in a mirror, and every evening he asks himself: «Am I really happy with what I did today?» There is a simple equation in Ghosh’s life: If his customers and employees are happy, he can be happy. Hence, serving his passengers personally has more than a PR effect. Every time he travels, the young CEO tries to be at the airport one hour ahead to have the chance to talk to his customers.

If something goes wrong, he helps. Shortly after he met the food-obsessed traveller, IndiGo brought back the cucumber sandwiches – and not only made a sale, but gained a fan.

This article first appeared in this year´s “St. Gallen Symposium Magazine“.

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