23 May 2024

Juha Järvinen, Virgin Atlantic's CCO, reveals the strategies to building a high-performance culture

In the video, Juha Järvinen, the Chief Commercial Officer of Virgin Atlantic, shares his valuable insights on effective leadership in an interview with Marc Hinnenberg, the CEO of Hanken & SSE, after our leadership event. As an executive with extensive experience in the aviation industry, Järvinen provides a unique perspective on the essential qualities and strategies that enable leaders to drive organisational success.

Virgin Atlantic as a brand

"Virgin Atlantic has been in the market for over 40 years, and what is quite unique about the company is that it has a lot of loyal customers who keep on flying with the airline or visit other Virgin brands just for the ethos and the feel of the company", says Juha. "We empower the frontline staff and the back office staff to be genuinely themselves. If you read any company's strategy documents, it's quite rare to see the words 'fun' or 'love' being used, and those are the words that we also actively use inside and outside the brand."

You have a long history in the airline industry, how has your leadership vision formed throughout the years?

"Regarding my long history in the airline industry, it's mostly the international nature of the business and exposure to many cultures and geographies that keep the company going, and this vision has been formed throughout my years with four different airlines", explains Juha. "One of the main drivers", he adds, "is the presence of continuous live customer feedback and being a continuous challenger in the airline industry".

So, if you think about the leadership inside your team, how do you coach your people and help them reach targets?

Juha emphasises the balance of being very open, which is part of his personal leadership style and also part of Virgin's DNA. He explains that Virgin has a very rigorous KPI tracking, but it is also focused on building it in a positive way. "Everybody has their own personal targets, and in addition, the company has enterprise targets that are proactively shared through weekly and daily dashboards. However, this approach also creates a lot of opinions", Juha continues. 

"Inside Virgin, we are quite open and share our personalities, while in the Finnish corporate culture, there tends to be a bit more of a tendency to hide personalities."

How to lead people with various opinions

"I would highlight Virgin's rigorous recruiting process, which emphasizes not only technical competencies but also people skills and the "Virgin personality" of being empowered, proactive, positive, and having fun at work", states Juha. This, he believes, ensures that the right people are hired, creating a high-performance culture.

What about your own journey as a leader, if you compare where you were 20 years ago and where are you now?

"As a teenager, I was extremely shy and came from a modest, working-class family in Western Finland." However, what has always pushed Juha forward, is his curiosity and willingness to take on new challenges, even without having prior experience. He encourages others to push their limits and explore new and exciting opportunities, as he believes that most things are not rocket science and can be learned as long as one has the basic skill sets.

Could you share some of the mistakes, you made during your career?

"I acknowledge that there have been some mistakes, such as growing too quickly or too ambitiously. I want to emphasise the importance of having a Plan B if something doesn't work and also taking proactive corrective actions instead of waiting too long for the thing to get fixed."

"For the younger generation starting their careers, I would say two things: be curious and be yourself!"

What skill sets and capabilities do you think people should develop to flourish in this new world?

"If the repetitive work gets removed, the focus will shift more towards human interactions, leadership, and people coaching, as those are areas where AI cannot excel in the foreseeable future", Juha concludes.

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