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Engaging insights comparing the travel industry to corporate culture


Ben Baldanza

travels from USA

CEO of Spirit Airlines, business leader and transformation expert known to change the path of the US airline industry

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About Ben

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Keynote speaker Ben Baldanza is an engaging, effective, and often quite humorous speaker who can address a number of topics of relevance for today’s organisations. He has had over thirty years of both innovative and groundbreaking performance within the US Airline Industry.

With over thirty years of both innovative and groundbreaking performance within the US Airline Industry, Ben Baldanza has been recognised as one of the most influential business leaders of the last twenty years.

The CEO of Spirit Airlines, Baldanza transformed a small and unprofitable airline into a totally new disruptive category which created billions of dollars in value and also changed the very path of the US airline industry.

Baldanza is an engaging, effective, and often quite humorous speaker who can address a number of topics of relevance for today’s organisations. These include cultural change, business transformation, the role of private and public companies, disruptive industries and how to create plus how to react to them, real life economics, and effective dealing with possibly hostile media, employees and/or customers. Ben Baldanza has appeared regularly on both TV and radio including the O’Reilly Factor, The Today Show, NPR, and numerous business shows on Bloomberg, CNBC, and Fox Business as well.

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    Speaker Ben Baldanza Keynote Topics

    • transforming a “broken” company
    • airplane and travel industry
    • health industry
    • corporate culture
    • role of private and public companies
    • cutting costs without sacrificing quality
    • disruptive industries and how to create and react to them
    • effective dealing with hostile media, employees and/or customers
    • preparing for an IPO
    • keeping investors properly informed
    • value of a non-profit board
    • modern public board issues
    • higher education and the role of online learning

Interview with Ben Baldanza

What perspectives have you gained as board director for companies in vastly different fields, from airlines to medical imaging to hotels?

Boards of Directors roles are quite different from management positions. Often, the roles of the Board and Management are synergistic but they can be conflictive, especially when the Board feels that the company, or especially the CEO, are underperforming. I have found that the roles of Boards are similar even among quite different industries, as the Board roles tend to focus on governance, executive recruitment, regulatory, strategy, and compliance issues. These tend to be more common than different among profit-motive corporations.

I have also learned that issues that initially seem industry-specific often have close or even direct applications in other industries. Airlines, for example, measure capacity on a “per available seat mile” basis. This means that revenue and costs are measured in units compared to the basic capacity investment of the company (one seat flying one mile). The diagnostic scanning business, which initially seems to have no real parallel to airlines, also has a reason to measure capacity investment and state revenues and costs in these terms.

So, a term like “available scan hours” would take into account the ability of the equipment in a specific center, the hours open, the staff, etc. Then, the centers could be measured based on how efficiently they use the capacity they have, even if their capacities are quite different among centers. This is a good example of how “business is business”, and the common points are greater than one might think among different industries. This has been confirmed to me by serving on Boards of different industries.

Can you tell a little about the process of transforming Spirit airline into a profitable airline?

This was a massive undertaking and required time, alignment with our investors, and a strong quantitative basis for the transformational changes we needed to make. The first step was to get very clear about the business we were in and the customer we wanted to attract. Most airlines focus on attracting a generally higher-paying business-traveling customer.

At Spirit, we chose to focus on customers who pay for tickets themselves. This is based on the quantitative economic principle of price elasticity. Those who pay for tickets themselves are more price elastic than those traveling for business purposes, when generally their costs are paid buy the company. Once this decision was made, others flowed from that. We established a simple, four-part customer proposition: have the lowest total price in the markets we served, be friendly, be reliable, and be clean.

With this in hand, we set up metrics to track each of these and follow through with initiatives to meet each goal. This resulted in having more seats on our planes than our competitors (since with more seats, everyone could pay a lower fare just like car pooling), and unbundling our fares since customers could then choose to pay only for the “extras” they really wanted. These changes resulted in a highly profitable and fast growing company that successfully IPOed in 2011.

What do you think lies in the future for the airline industry?

The airline industry is in a more stable space than any time since US deregulation in 1978. This is due to consolidation which has controlled excess capacity, and management teams that are focused on economic and financial returns as well as other metrics. I expect there is more consolidation to come, but these will be smaller mergers than the ones completed between 2008-2013. Ancillary fees for things like baggage are here to stay, since the economics are quite powerful and productive for the airline.

Who or what inspires you most?

In business,  am inspired by finding new and innovative ways to think about businesses that are under performing. In the airline space, luminaries that have benefitted from this approach include Bob Crandall, Gordon Bethune, Herb Kelleher, Bill Franke, and Michale O’Leary. I have learned by either working with or carefully studying each of these leaders, but I also have been inspired by rank-and-file employees who have good ideas about their roles and are motivated by their own success. In my personal life, noting has been more inspiring to me that raising my son, Enzo, who is now 11 years old.

What kinds of clients have you worked with in the past?

I have worked with multiple clients in various roles. I have supported private equity teams who are evaluating potential investments. I have consulted to business that are looking for help to become more profitable, more reliable, more customer friendly, or all of these at once. I have spoken with groups who want to know how to evolve business models and change corporate culture. I have taught at the College level to both undergraduate and graduate students and seniors in “lifelong learning” programs. Most importantly, I want to be useful and helpful to anyone or any company I work with.

How do you prepare for speaking engagements?

I try to learn about the audience and what their motivations are, and how my experiences can be shared in ways that are most useful and enjoyable for them. I limit slides to be an outline but say much more than the slides, and sometimes choose to use no slides at all. I like when my audiences laugh a few times, in appropriate ways for the topic. I practice the talk but don’t memorize exact language. I always work to ensure that my timing is right, and clarify in advance if Q&A will be part of the program.

See keynotes with Ben Baldanza
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Keynote topics with Ben Baldanza