Should Virgin Australia CEO John Borghetti ever suffer from late-night pangs of self doubt, he need only pick up the phone and call Sir Richard Branson for a shot of confidence.
"Qantas made its biggest mistake ever by not making John their chief executive" Branson reflected in Perth following Virgin Australia's launch of its new regional arm.
"If they had, I think that Australian aviation would be extremely different today."
A 36-year veteran of Qantas who in 2010 took over the helm at Virgin Australia (then known as Virgin Blue) after being spurned for the Red Roo's top job, Borghetti “came to Virgin with a mission to prove Qantas wrong” Branson explains. “He wouldn't say that himself but I’m sure that is the case.”
Branson speaks warmly of Borghetti, readily praising him as being “great with people, and a great strategic thinker... if we could duplicate John and his senior team at Virgin Australia and place them into any Virgin company anywhere in the world, we would love to do so."
Asia still in Virgin’s sights
“John’s ticked most of the boxes” in building Virgin Australia into an airline that could take the fight to Qantas, Branson told Australian Business Traveller.
“The airline has been upgraded enormously and business travellers have been moving over to Virgin Australia in large numbers.”
“We’d like to see a little bit more international expansion, particularly to the Far East, and I’m sure that will happen over the next few years.”
That move stands separate to Virgin’s current partnership with Singapore Airlines, indicating that Virgin would either fly its own aircraft to other Asian destinations – most likely within China – or form an alliance with another airline in the region.
“To have lost Singapore to Qantas would have been a real blow, so it’s great to have Singapore Airlines as a major partner” Branson said. “They’ve got enormous clout in the region.”
“But domestically and regionally most of the big boxes have been ticked, and Virgin Australia couldn’t be in a better position for the years going forward.”
Branson’s bet with Borghetti
Next year in particular is a crucial milestone, at least on the personal Branson-Borghetti scale.
It’s when the second of two high-stakes bets between the globetrotting entrepreneur multibillionaire and the Aussie airline wiz will be called.
Borghetti claimed victory in his first wager with Branson, which hinged on the radical transformation of the low-cost carrier Virgin Blue into the highly-competitive Virgin Australia.
That bet was “to change the company within 12 months” Borghetti told Australian Business Traveller, “and I asked him to donate money to a charity.”
While Borghetti didn’t name the noble cause it’s believed to be the annual CEO Sleepout for the Homeless, where Borghetti joined other high-flying CEOs bunked out at Sydney’s Luna Park in June 2011 with a $20,000 sponsor donation from SRB in his pocket to assist the St Vincent de Paul Society provide services for the homeless.
Now the Borghetti-Branson challenge is in Round Two. Branson is reluctant to be drawn on specifics, but admits the wager is that “John believes that next year’s earnings will be a certain amount, plus a few other bits and pieces."
"We’ll see whether he delivers, but I’m hopeful he wins the bet!" Branson laughs.
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