Speaking at the World Financial Symposium, Stephen Barnes explained how his airline inspires creativity

Creating a culture that encourages innovation is vital for airlines, says Singapore Airlines CFO Stephen Barnes.

Barnes was speaking at the Airlines Leaders on The Grill! panel at the World Financial Symposium in Dublin on 27 September, alongside Steve Priest, CFO and Executive VP, JetBlue, and Pekka VähähyyppäCFO, Finnair.

We are very blessed that our CEO [Goh Choon Phong] has an IT background. He is out in front trying to help us generate ideas

They discussed how innovation and technology can improve efficiencies.

“You need to have leadership from the top,” Barnes says. “We are very blessed that our CEO [Goh Choon Phong] has an IT background.

"He is enthusiastic about the opportunities it offers and he is therefore very much out in front trying to help us generate ideas.

“At the moment we are planning to bring in processes that shorten the decision-making processes. Fewer people will be involved in actually identifying and giving the green light to a particular project, and this can drive efficiency.”

The key to Singapore Airlines’ strategy, Barnes says, is to create a “digital mindset” throughout the airline. Central to this is a new staff training initiative.

We have made available a series of externally-provided innovation and digital-focused training courses

While having technology experts is vital for any airline, Barnes says Singapore Airlines is encouraging all its staff to be innovative and develop fresh ideas.

“We have made available a series of externally-provided innovation and digital-focused training courses,” he says.

“The idea is to try an ensure that we have—throughout the organisation—not just the occasional champion, but that everybody is thinking of using the tools, and feeling free to come up with ideas.”

And while developing successful, innovative programs and processes is the main objective in creating this culture, Barnes says its equally crucial the airline learns from mistakes.

“We need to identify champions, we need to identify the successes, but we also recognise that we need to celebrate failures—at least heroic failures,” he says.

“We need to learn when to kill those ideas quickly, and what the lessons for the next idea are.”

Steve Priest, of JetBlue, summed up the importance of being ahead of the curve when it comes to new technologies.

“We have to know what is around the corner,” he said. “The speed of technology, the speed of innovation, is happening around us. We want to be on the bus rather than getting hit by it.”

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