Tina Stowell Associates

Why were discussing reputation Rolls Royce and not Qantas

November 10th, 2010 | Posted in Uncategorized

Calling all chief executives: Alan Joyce, the chief executive of Qantas, is a canny communicator. Watch him and weep. Not only has he seized control of his own company’s narrative since an engine in one of his aeroplanes broke apart on Thursday, he’s been controlling the Rolls Royce narrative too.

For example, on Monday he said: “there was oil where oil shouldn’t be on the engines”. Now, this is killer evidence of nothing, but his plain-speaking is helping Qantas achieve two important things: make us believe the man in charge has got the situation gripped; and gently nod us in the direction of Rolls Royce. (I’ll come back to Rolls Royce in a minute).

So where does Mr Joyce get the confidence to be so sure of himself – and of us in believing him? Well, he’s certainly got clear evidence the problem is engine-related so he’s on firm ground in making sure Rolls Royce doesn’t escape attention. (NB: deflection doesn’t work without relevant evidence and if you want to know what I mean, just check out the FIFA chap who’s trying to blame the media’s inquiries rather than the corruption they uncovered for the chaos affecting the 2018 hosting competition.)

But Mr Joyce has done something far more important than just provide us evidence that someone else might have messed up. He’s provided evidence that he and Qantas are on their game. In other words, Qantas has shown us it really is all about what it says is its first priority: passenger safety.  And they have shown us how they use the clarity of passenger safety to drive all decisions, including the way the airline reacts when something goes wrong.  And furthermore, that clarity of purpose has given Alan Joyce confidence to speak with authority about his airline’s performance over the past few days.

Of course, our belief in Qantas’ commitment to passenger safety is helped because Dustin Hoffman told us in Rain Man that the airline has never had a fatal crash. But that statement would hold little currency if Qantas didn’t keep showing us that it does everything possible to avoid a crash. Because one day (God forbid), Dustin’s one-liner may become redundant. And, reassuringly, Qantas goes out of its way to show us it understands that. Indeed, Qantas understands that its reputation is not built on Rain Man, it’s built and will be maintained on showing us real evidence of the lengths it goes to keeping its passengers safe.

And over the past week, that is what Alan Joyce has done. And that is why all the media talk about corporate reputation is not about Qantas, it’s about Rolls Royce.

So what about Rolls Royce? And isn’t Alan Joyce playing with fire by nodding in their direction as the people mainly responsible (their engines are in his aircraft after all)? Well the answer to the second question is probably no, because I’m guessing someone like Mr Joyce would expect a company as brilliant as Rolls Royce to be as confident in showing how it operates as he is in showing us Qantas. And that’s where Rolls Royce has shown itself to be weak.

Rolls Royce is all about quality and excellence. Top of the range. Nothing better. It is a remarkable British brand. And it doesn’t even need Dustin Hoffman to tell us it’s great. We use the brand to define ‘the best’. When people say “I want Rolls Royce service”, no explanation is needed.

Of course there are a number of reasons why serious people might advise Rolls Royce to keep its head down (the real threat of legal action from a competitor being the biggest I’m sure). Personally, I wouldn’t accept any of them. (And that its customers are airlines and not people is irrelevant in my book. It employs people and it is an important British engineering company.)

For me, there is absolutely no excuse for Rolls Royce not to show us – just like Qantas has – how committed to excellence it is by the way it is responding to this current crisis. Now, I accept it’s harder for Rolls Royce because their actions are not as obvious as landing a plane with a missing engine or grounding a fleet for a few days.  But it’s got to find a way of showing us that it cares about getting it right.

Being in danger of taking the rap for what happened to QF32 is certainly not an excuse not to try.  Indeed, not only is that a reason to get out there (the share price was nose-diving for goodness sake), handling this crisis is an opportunity to show everyone what kind of company it is and to strengthen its reputation. The world is looking at Rolls Royce right now and it doesn’t do that very often. Just like Dustin Hoffman’s one-liner about Qantas’ crash record, “I want Rolls Royce service” is meaningless unless Rolls Royce itself keeps showing us why we say that.

On Monday Rolls Royce made a statement that it is ‘making progress’ in establishing the cause of the problem. Hallelujah. And the share price rose as a result. But that statement didn’t go far enough for Rolls Royce to wrestle back control of its own narrative. It has promised a further statement on Friday. When that is issued (if not before), it would be great if – alongside some facts and figures – the CEO could find his own way of reminding us what Rolls Royce is all about, and showing us how it has used that clarity to correct this operating failure. This extract from the Rolls Royce website might be useful inspiration.

‘To be Trusted to Deliver Excellence’ is our central organising thought. It is what we aspire to become. It is the embodiment of the promise we make to our customers. In today’s competitive environment, it is not enough to build great products: our customers are looking to us to deliver the best in service solutions. When we do, we build enduring relationships with our customers, partners and other stakeholders.

P.S. I’ve just heard this morning that Singapore Airlines has announced it too has some problems with Rolls Royce engines in their A380s.  So c’mon Rolls Royce – this is absolutely the time to tell us why you care and show us how.