Rob Fyfe

Rob Fyfe

2010 Beacon Award

The directors of the New Zealand Shareholders’ Association have pleasure this year in presenting the award to Mr Rob Fyfe, CEO, Air New Zealand.

The choice this was very easy for us.  Few New Zealand CEOs are recognised internationally for their work as employees of a local public company, but this year Rob was awarded the prestigious CEO of the year by the Singaporean Centre for Asia Pacific Aviation.

Rob’s career contains an unusual blend of engineering finance and marketing.  He graduated with honours from the Canterbury School of Engineering, trained in the RNZAF and RAF Cranwell UK and held management positions at Postbank and National Australia Bank.  He became General Manager of Marketing at Bank of New Zealand and General Manager, Consumer Markets at Telecom.  After time in the UK as CEO and MD of ITV Digital Rob returned home in 2003 to become Chief Operating Officer at Air New Zealand and headed the business transformation team.  In 2005 he was appointed CEO of Air New Zealand.

This year Air NZ trailed biofuels successfully, handled volcanic disruptions, developed its premium seating, coped with the most volatile of industries by forming code sharing arrangements with competitors, and won Air Transport World’s awards for best airline.  Financial oversight included careful cost control and skilful capacity management as the market began to recover.  The result was profit when many other airlines were struggling to reduce their losses.

Other airlines are now using the fly and glide techniques originally used by Air New Zealand to save fuel, but Air New Zealand has moved on.  Compare the stuffed shit seat safety instructions on almost all airlines with the compulsive viewing All Black presentation on Air New Zealand which cumulates with an 80 year old grandma streaking down the aisle.

Rob has given marketing and crisis management a human face.  Long after the loss of the 320 in the Mediterranean, and the disappearance of a pilot in Hong Kong, we will remember not the detail of the problem, but the humane and sympathetic way Rob and his company treated the families and dealt with the public interest.

Shareholders have welcomed the monthly operations report on the company’s website.  Rob and his board are trying to make the company’s accounts and operations open and transparent to shareholders.  This undoubtedly puts pressure on staff to stay ahead of the game internationally.

Rob is natural marketer, and his efforts to explain the trans Tasman arrangement with Pacific Blue, in sign language is still scoring hits on YouTube, while his torso bare in the Kapahaka clips, and painted in the service advertisements gives the girls a chance to whistle.  And if you meet Rob on a local flight New Zealand, he may still be serving you a cup of tea as he checks out things at the coalface.

Transformation, like competition is a continuous thing, and Rob’s contribution is to show that it must be a deep seated part of the total company effort.  The New Zealand Shareholders Association honours his outstanding leadership with the 2010 Beacon Award.