I could start this editorial with the usual Instagram ‘Meanwhile in …’. Because yes while all the private business aviation leaders and executives are assembled in Le Bourget Airport on the outskirts of Paris for one of the most decision-making spots on the agenda for the aircraft industry … NetJets chose to invest in a design installation in Basel, Switzerland, in the very much sought after Art Basel. This is no haphazard since NetJets has been a long time partner of this fair and this event may somehow also celebrate this 12-year successful relationship. With operations in China, Europe and the U.S, NetJets operates over 12,000 flights a year and has flown to more than 170 countries landing in 1,300 airports. Not your ordinary carrier as it can offer an inflight library curated by Heywood Hill, Nobu onboard catering and way much more.
Yesterday I talked over the phone with Marine Eugene, Director at NetJets Europe. She was in the NetJets VIP Lounge at Art Basel as the company also celebrates the delivery of its first Bombardier Challenger C350. As we discussed new fleet, customer experience, NetJets members are discovering and enjoying art works by guest designers the Timorous Beasties who have been commissioned with both the interior design of the lounge and the decoration of the tail of the just delivered Challenger C350.
Business Madame: While the industry is gathered in Le Bourget we could wonder why you are celebrating ‘only’ in Basel?
Marine Eugene: That is the reason why it is essential to understand who our customers are. NetJets offers a fleet of 700 aircraft around the world and each of these planes are the shared property of our members who have chosen this type of investment better than owning their own single jet. We guarantee them the availability of our jets upon a simple telephone call within 4 hours. We become part of their lives as we fly them to their most precious private or business moments. They become part of a community and are generally loyal to the brand and its ethos for many years.
« But no matter about all the other assets the human factor ranks first. It is the captain and his crew who have the highest impact as they accompany our customers in all their important moments such as a business contract signature or a special family event. It is nothing compared to a commercial airline service … » Marine Eugene
BM: By that do you mean that your job description consists of supporting the neo socialite’s or philanthropist’s agenda?
ME: In a certain way the answer is yes. Their yearly social agenda moves from Davos to Art Basel Miami hence our presence here. We naturally move with them along with our private premium lounges always at their disposal on each of these core business congresses or art fairs. This is their oasis to rest and recharge their batteries sipping a coffee in a top-notch interior design. And they count on us for other events such as in the horse race season, Formula One Grand Prix in Monaco or in other cities, … We offer confidentiality and comfort, either up in the air or here in this kind of space. That is our core business.
BM: So it does make sense not to be in a ‘booth’ in Le Bourget Paris Air Show? Of course you are into a different business compared with Dassault, Bombardier and the likes …
ME: You are totally right! Our mission is not the same and what is at stake over there is of interest to only a minor segment of our members: the hard-core defense and private aviation aficionados. Although I admit that I have been a regular visitor of the Paris Air Show over past years our strategy is not to communicate over there but rather here in Basel which happens to be at the same period. But of course we are very much involved with our partners in the industry whether you call them Cessna, Dassault, Bombardier or Embraer! We are now investing in our future fleet with more than 17 billion $ spent on the purchase of the Challenger 350! So yes we are taking part in the conversation! The Challenger 350 introduced in Basel is the first to be delivered as we have ordered the production of 100 units. It is a strong take! As we are committed to the best we go for the utmost quality and safety. For instance we buy only brand new aircraft, directly from our partner aircraft manufacturing companies.
BM : Besides safety which of course is a must what makes the NetJets experience so singular?
ME: We endeavour to offer our members their perfect music playlist, the best catering service, and more than anything else we want them to feel that we know them very well. It is about understanding who they are, what matters the most in their existence, we engage in that kind of relationship with them. I remember one member who had a crush on Marriage Frères tea. So we stocked some boxes at the airport so that we could assure him that from the lounge to his seat on board he could indulge according to his own standards. But no matter all the other assets the human factor ranks first. It is the captain and his crew who have the highest impact as they accompany our customers in all their important moments such as a business contract signature or a special family event. It is nothing compared to a commercial airline service where the cabin crew change each time. When you spend a lot of your life at 40,000 ft. you need reassurance and one of the best ways to attain that is by flying with people whom you feel acquainted with although our staff keeps a certain distance as this is a must.
BM: As you said it is all about being adaptive to your community of users. Hence my interrogation about your choice regarding your communication strategy: from advertising in Monocle magazine to a very hype collaboration with French artist and illustrator Jean-Philippe Delhomme or sponsoring Art Basel for 12 years … Bearing this in mind: Europe being your key market and the U.S growing at a pace of 3 digit figures (250 % in 2014) …
ME: As we operate in 3 zones (Asia, North America and Europe) but fly our member all over the world we must adopt a specific tone of voice depending where and to whom we speak. Of course it is with a united voice. Our values are the same wherever we are but you do not speak to a German or a British person in the same way. Europe is our core market with 1,000 customers of which 50 per cent are based in UK. But even at this level we must convey our messages in a different manner. UK is a good example as we are happy to work with both old and newly made money, to the Davos disruptive thinker and to the Monaco x Formula One enthusiast! I can think also about the captains of industry or the art collectors. Our communication asks for cleverness and dexterity to address these various needs.
BM: How have your customer responded to your collaboration with Timorous Beasties?
ME: People love it! As I am talking with you people are around me in the lounge are indulging the sight of this artwork. I love the fact that above all it was a beautiful encounter with these Glasgow originated designers. They are very much acclaimed both internationally and in UK. They worked on this on demand and customized the design on the tail of our new jet. The craftsmanship is exceptional and the lounge is amazing too! At the same time our customers being art and design educated people they can understand their work but our decision to go for this kind of collaboration is no disruption at all. I mean if you consider that we are more on the periphery of the industry compared to the manufacturers.
BM: So now that we know you better tell us a bit more about your members?
ME: I mentioned confidentiality before. It is critical for our members. They expect that kind of service from us and we also want our sophisticated, discreet and wise customers to enjoy flying with us this way. We are dealing with wealthy and affluent 3rd or 4th generations and it involves a high level of non-traceability as we handle very strategic information as a third party. At the same time today’s affluent entrepreneurs or philanthropists demand reasonable, conscious and rational spending. Of course they are results oriented and want efficiency but in a balanced way. We are a major and pioneer actor of the shared economy and specifically in the high-end services industry. We were here way before Uber!