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We went through our specific process that gets to the underlying issues in conflict situations such as these. The process fosters deeper, more honest communication than people are commonly familiar with. The goal was to break down barriers, build relationships and become partners instead of adversaries.
If you’d like to talk to the individuals themselves, please email me for their contact information. Celebrating the people, technology, ideas, and innovations that are transforming the way businesses make and keep customers.
Case Study: Exceptional Customer Culture in the Face of a Qantas DisasterPosted on May 10, 2016This is an unlikely but true story about iconic brands being protected by an amazing airline captain, the power of social media, and how to create customer-centric culture. On November 4th, 2010, Captain de Crespigny was in command of QF32 flying from Singapore to Sydney. Miraculously, no passengers were injured and, due to the low altitude, the passenger cabin was not compromised by decompression.
On the ground in Indonesia, the engine cowling with the Qantas logo, along with other debris, had rained down over the populated town of Batam, including onto school grounds. Back up at 7,400 feet there was calm on the flight deck as the world’s most experienced A380 flight crew [literally] dealt with the situation. On this particular flight, Captain de Crespigny was being checked by another senior pilot who was himself being trained as a checking captain. During the incident everyone knew their roles, and every issue and task was dealt with calmly and professionally. Everyone on the flight deck and the cabin crew had trained for just this emergency and they instinctively knew what to do. With less than a 3% margin for error in landing airspeed to pull-up on the available runway they managed an incredibly difficult landing. Captain de Crespigny led his team faultlessly and harnessed all the resources available to him. The QF32 incident made headlines around the world but beyond the airmanship, leadership and teamwork on the flight deck, Captain de Crespigny then instinctively continued to lead when back in the terminal with his passengers (customers). He didn’t need to refer to a manual to do a masterful job because the culture within Qantas empowered him with shared values of transparency and service excellence. 1,000 Qantas staff had leapt into action, looking after their customers by organising buses, finding hotel rooms, communicating and meeting individual needs until all 440 passengers were returned safely home. None of the passengers ever called Captain de Crespigny’s mobile phone to complain or to ask for help. Captain de Crespigny is a shining example of the fact that the leader determines the culture … no, the leader is the culture. Richard shies away from individual praise and continually states that it was a team effort – he is right.
Captain de Crespigny is a classic example of a Jim Collins Level 5 leader and he continues to fly A380s for Qantas. The job is to provide a great experience for customers [passengers], not fulfill the role technically [fly the plane safely].
The Qantas A380, Nancy-Bird Walton, which was operating as QF32 on November 4th, 2010 is now back in the air after what was reportedly the longest and most expensive aircraft repair in aviation history. My advice for every business is to build a great customer-centric culture and empower your people to passionately represent your brand in all channels, especially social. This is an excerpt from Tony Hughes whitepaper “Everyone Represents the Brand: How to Create a Customer Centric Culture” Download it here.
Our essential ingredient is that we really do care about our customers, our partners and our staff. Master real estate development (2 case studies), real estate private equity (3 case studies), and REIT modeling and valuation via a case study of AvalonBay. For the ultra-advanced student: get Bank Modeling + Oil and Gas Modeling + Real Estate Modeling for just $697 and save $344! He operated from what he wanted the relationship to look like (trust, respect and collaboration). Every enterprise can learn much from this story as it exemplifies the incredible benefits of empowering and trusting employees to not only do their job but also represent the brand – in this case, also save lives.



As we discussed the incident, it became very apparent to me that Richard is not only a talented and seasoned pilot, in both military and commercial aviation, but also an exceptional leader. But exploding shrapnel had penetrated the underbelly, slicing through both of the two main electrical trunk lines – the backbone of the aircraft’s central nervous system. Qantas has the well-deserved reputation of being the safest airline in the world – it is the oldest continually operating commercial airline globally and no passenger on a Qantas jet aircraft has ever been killed as a result of an incident. This meant that there were five on the flight deck instead of the normal three – the Second Officer (Mark Johnson), First Officer (Co-Pilot Matt Hicks) and three captains – but all had no doubt that there was only one person in command. The First Officer, Matt Hicks, dealt with well over one hundred alarms and checklists while Captain de Crespigny concentrated on flying the aircraft, monitoring his First Officer, keeping his situation awareness, weighing his options and laying strategies to complete the flight. They had lost all ability to transfer fuel between the eleven different tanks creating dangerous imbalances that became worse with time. Way faster than normal and with badly degraded brakes, no reverse thrusters, they came to halt with a mere 100 meters of runway left. Despite all the damage caused by the Rolls-Royce engine explosion, and despite the potential problems with having too many cooks on the flight deck, Captain de Crespigny maintained a calm atmosphere where everyone knew and performed their roles. Despite his emotional and physical exhaustion from piloting and managing the crisis over four hours in the air and on the ground, he then assumed the role of customer service and Public Relations (PR) representative for Qantas, Airbus and Rolls-Royce. Rather than leave it to PR and customer service people, he took charge and when every passenger was safely in the terminal he went and spoke to them saying: “When you fly Qantas you’re flying with a premium airline and you have every right to expect more.
The captain explained that the fire trucks sprayed water to cool the brakes, laid foam on the leaking fuel and tried to snuff an engine that wouldn’t shut down.’ Captain de Crespigny’s full and open disclosure and personal guarantee had transformed 440 passengers into the best PR and brand agents that Qantas management could have ever hoped for.
Everyone was deeply grateful to Captain de Crespigny, the flight crews and ground crews for keeping them safe.
Richard explained to me that this is his audit process, proving that the entire Qantas organisation performed brilliantly during this extended crisis. He believed that he was not just responsible for flying the aircraft safely but he represented his employer’s and suppliers’ (Airbus and Rolls-Royce) brands. But make no mistake, had QF32 ended in disaster, and it very easily could have, then he would have accepted sole responsible for the loss of life.
Just as he’s done his entire career, he walks the cabin on long haul flights and talks with passengers. Richard’s intimate knowledge of the A380 helped him manage its systems in a crisis and lead the team with clarity. Communicate clearly and ensure that everyone knows their role and is empowered to perform it. Fly with Airbus, Qantas and Rolls-Royce with confidence – companies that have great cultures. He has three decades of business leadership experience and has also taught for the University of Sydney and the University of Technology, Sydney, Australia. As a result, we invest our own time and knowledge into developing something that's far more than just an event. At 7,400 feet during climb-out there was a catastrophic failure of an inboard Rolls-Royce engine resulting in a very rare uncontained explosion.
There are many electrical wiring looms within the A380 for inbuilt redundancy but it was incredibly unlucky, and potentially fatal, for two primary looms to be taken out at the same time.
The Qantas CEO, Alan Joyce, was travelling in a car with his head of Corporate Communications when they received a phone call asking why Qantas’ share price was falling dramatically. Before take-off, Captain de Crespigny had ensured that there would be no confusion concerning the chain of command and that everyone’s roles were crystal clear. The second officer visited the cabin to investigate the damage and to communicate with the Customer Service Manager, Michael von Reth.
They had also lost all the wing slats, which provide greater lift and enable the aircraft to fly slower for landing. The leader trusted his team to perform every standard operating procedure and delegated task. But they were not out of danger – 3 tonnes of fuel poured onto the tarmac, pooling around white-hot brakes. At one point in the crisis he re-set the flight deck team to focus on what systems were working rather being focussed on the endless alarms and lists of things that had failed. An army of Qantas staff are right now finding you hotel rooms and working out how to get you to Sydney as soon as possible.


Qantas, to their credit, never reprimanded him for overstepping the boundaries of his responsibilities on the ground in the terminal with passengers – they were grateful to have a leader step-up when needed, technically and commercially. In the days, months and years that followed he neutralized sensationalist media and highlighted that the safety and training culture within Qantas combined with the safety and robustness of the Airbus A380 were the reasons why the incident ended without loss of life. He believes that a good leader has to be seen and nothing reinforces a culture of friendly service more than leaders exposing themselves to customers.
Shrapnel flew out at supersonic speed crippling control systems running along the Q380’s left wing leading edge, peppering the fuselage, invading the underbelly, puncturing two wing fuel tanks in at least ten locations and wreaking havoc with 21 of the 22 aircraft’s systems. Passengers heard several loud ‘bangs’ and could see obvious wing punctures and the fuel vapour trail, but there was far more damage than the eye could see.
For them this was the first sign of a problem and highlights the instant speed of social media and its power to impact a brand in real-time.
On top of this, Qantas invests heavily in training and every captain is checked-out seven times a year.
He discussed these issues at the pre-flight briefing, during the drive to the airport and again before the A380 pushed back from the aerobridge in Singapore. Back in the passenger cabin, Michael von Reth and his team were calmly assuring passengers while watching for any signs of panic in individuals and then quietly addressing problems with empathy and reassurance. The A380 was the most technologically advanced and robust (redundant systems) passenger aircraft in history.
The fire crew held back because the outboard engine on the damaged wing would not shut down. But right now I want you to write down this number – it’s my personal mobile phone and I want you to call me if you think Qantas is not looking after you or if you think that Qantas does not care.” Then he explained what had happened, why, what would happen next and disclosed everything he knew. Richard de Crespigny’s also knows that no cabin crew want to see passengers complaining about service to the Captain. Richard is more than a professional pilot, he is committed to giving his passengers the best possible experience and being a positive representative of the Qantas, Airbus and Rolls-Royce brands.
In my opinion it was far more serious, and far closer to being a disaster, than anyone has been willing to acknowledge – there was a fire that fortunately self-extinguished in the wind. The largest passenger airliner in the world was severely degraded and had probably lost 50% of system networks and 65% of the aircraft’s roll control. Just as in the military, there are full and frank peer reviews any time there is an incident. They were flying safely and just had to figure out how to mitigate the extensive failures and to get down safely at Changi Airport back in Singapore.
Eventually foam was sprayed all over the fuel and Captain de Crespigny decided that the passengers were safer on board than executing an emergency evacuation.
He managed the risks by making sure they didn’t rush and that they triple-checked all calculations.
He has behaved this way his entire career because he is committed to giving passengers their best possible experience. It was set-up for catastrophic cascading events unless the flight deck had the right leadership culture.
Safety, transparency and accountability are dominant cultural elements for all Qantas pilots – not something that exists in all airlines. Captain de Crespigny knew that height gave them more time and options so he told the flight deck team he was initiating a climb. He also quietly prepared for a glide landing (Armstrong Spiral) in the event that all engines failed. He prepared everyone for the media circus that would ensue and stayed in the lounge with passengers until there were no more questions – eventually he was standing on his own. He even built an online community for all the passengers to connect and help deal with their fears or need for additional information. Most importantly, he didn’t make assumptions but instead tested the aircraft’s handling characteristics while he had the safety of height before the final approach.
They were in stable level flight and they did not have all the information about what was wrong… leave everything as it is.




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