The morning keynote of the 12th annual Latin American and Hispanic Business Association Conference, held in March at Columbia Business School, featured David Neeleman, Founder and Chairman of Azul Brazilian Airlines. Mr. Neeleman presented his philosophy for successful entrepreneurship and discusses the opportunities and challenges associated with building businesses in Brazil.
For David Neeleman, the creation of Azul Brazilian Airlines represented a return to his roots. Born in Sao Paolo, where his father worked as the city's United Press International Bureau Chief, Mr. Neeleman moved to the United States as a child but returned to Brazil many times throughout his life. He built a vast record of entrepreneurship in the airline industry, co-founding Morris Air and WestJet; launching Open Skies, an airline reservation and check-in systems company; and founding JetBlue, the first airline to earn $100 million annually within five years. With dual American and Brazilian citizenship, the Portuguese-fluent serial entrepreneur is now chairman of Azul, which recently set an industry record for carrying 2.2 million passengers in its first year of operation.
What is the key to being a successful entrepreneur? For Mr. Neeleman, it is all about building a better mousetrap for customers; that is, increasing efficiency by offering a better product than the competition at a lower cost. Lowering costs is particularly important in Brazil, where incumbent competitors have grown inefficient in response to a long history of government protection for local industries. The Azul mousetrap takes its cue from JetBlue, offering discount fares and featuring leather seats with televisions, while flying direct routes to secondary airports as well using smaller planes made by Brazilian manufacturer Embraer to keep costs low. Needless to say, Mr. Neeleman sees enormous potential for his new venture.