You’re not only in the process of launching a new airline, you’re also doing so with a very different kind of business model. Can you expand on that?
It’s all in the name really. POP stands for People Over Profit and that’s at the heart of our vision. By operating the first ever direct non-stop flights between the UK and two of India’s key second cities – Amritsar in Punjab and Ahmedabad in Gujarat – we’ll be creating new opportunities for communities in both countries to get together, whether for social or business reasons. But we also believe the greater good starts within company walls.
That’s why we’ve committed to donating at least 51% of our net profits to charitable causes. We’ve established POP in such a way as to align the interests of all our stakeholders – not just customers and shareholders but the communities in which we’ll be operating and the environment.
It’s an approach that also extends to our suppliers. Whether we’re talking about goods or services, POP will always strive to work with companies who share a similar philanthropic philosophy, either by giving a share of their profits to charity or by supporting the communities in which they do business in some other way. In short, we’re determined to consider the social impact of every decision we take, including everyone we choose to partner with.
Isn’t that quite a departure from the way airlines are normally run?
Yes, it is. And we’re consciously breaking new ground in terms of our corporate social responsibility. But we’re building on developments that have been taking place for some time across other industry sectors.
You could say that consumers are now taking notice of what goes on ‘inside the factory’. You can trace it back to businesses like The Body Shop and Ben & Jerry’s which were among the first to publically embrace social values above and beyond their commercial interests. And it really worked for them. People identified with the values they believed in and it’s a trend that has been growing ever since. Consumers are more likely to buy from a company that is doing good things for the world.
But do you really think it can work for an airline?
Certainly I do. It doesn’t matter what the product or service is. People like to buy from businesses that stand for something, businesses that want to make the world a better place. Yes, of course, customers like cheap prices but they don’t like exploitative labour practices, for example, and they do care about the impact that businesses are having on the environment. So if people see that company A has a social conscience and is trying to do something good whilst company B is simply trying to maximise the return for its shareholders regardless of the social and environmental consequences, they’ll choose to buy from company A. It’s also important to remember that whilst some of the legacy sovereign carriers are loss-making, we are positioning ourselves in the highly profitable LCC sector. So whilst, initially, the 51% of our net – and I stress ‘net’ – profits may not amount to a great deal, it could represent a very substantial sum in the years to come, transforming the lives of so many of the disadvantaged in the communities we will be operating in.
But when we buy something, we don’t necessarily know whether we’re buying from a company A or a company B?
Well, increasingly we do. There’s something called the triple bottom line. It basically means that companies don’t just report on their financial position, they also report on the social and environmental impacts that their businesses are making. It may not be a legal requirement but more and more businesses are reporting in this way.
Growing pressure from concerned consumers, non-governmental organisations and, to some extent, governments means that, whether they want to or not, businesses are feeling increasingly obliged to be transparent. If they want to sell something, whether it’s a widget or an airline ticket, it’s much harder for them these days to be anonymous entities, hiding behind a brand name. In a sense, companies are becoming brands in their own right.
It’s time for businesses to stand together to create the future that we all want. Having a purpose beyond profits is good for business. More companies have come to recognise the link between doing good and doing well – working toward the common good.
What do you call this kind of business model?
Different companies approach it in different ways and call it different things but it all comes under the umbrella term of corporate social responsibility. At POP, we call it ‘caring capitalism’ because we really do care about the communities we aim to serve both in the UK and India. POP will be a genuinely low-cost airline which will also be offering its passengers a real kind of enhanced value in terms of service. At the same time, as I’ve already said, we will be giving 51% of our net profits to charities that are working within those communities. And we’ve already identified the four charities we will be supporting in our first year of operation – Dreams Come True and SkillForce in the UK and Railway Children and Pratham in India.
There’s a term that has been gaining ground recently – ‘glocalisation’. Basically, it means thinking on a global level whilst acting in a way that meets local needs. It’s a very apt term for the way POP plans to do business.
You talked about the environment earlier. Can you tell me a bit more about that?
Yes, we aim to be the first international airline to be truly carbon neutral. It’s an important part of our belief in how businesses should operate. So, beyond complying with airline industry best practice, we intend to purchase sufficient carbon credits – without passing the cost on to our passengers – to fully offset the emissions created by our flights. Consumers care about the environment, about the impacts of climate change caused by greenhouse gases.