Benjamin Li
Feb 5, 2014

Fun, human touch helps 30-year-old Virgin Altantic make a distinct impression

ASIA PACIFIC - Listening to parental advice does help some people to achieve their dreams in life, according to David Rose, the new head of Asia-Pacific at Virgin Atlantic.

David Rose
David Rose

Throughout his early childhood, Rose's dream was to become a pilot. But unfortunately he was not blessed with good eyesight. So, he paid heed to his father's advice: "If you can''t fly an aircraft, why don't you build them?"

Rose (pictured) went on to study aeronautical engineering at Bristol University in the UK, which he said has strong links with companies in the industry, such as Rolls Royce and Airbus.

After his early career, which included time in British Army, a charity and a business consultancy, he eventually linked up with his childhood passion and joined Virgin Atlantic as a strategic analyst in London.

Within six years, Rose proved to be high-flyer. He leapfrogged to positions as country manager in Kenya and then China, stationed in Shanghai. The company promoted him to head up Asia-Pacific and he relocated to Hong Kong last month, at the age of 34.

Speaking to Campaign Asia-Pacific at the airline's luxurious new offices in Hysan Place, Causeway Bay, earlier this month, Rose said Virgin Atlantic, which is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year, has a long and well-known history in the UK and other mature markets.

The company aims to 'embrace the human spirit and let it fly' explaining that like unlike services provided in hotels and restaurants with rigid procedures for staff to follow, Virgin Atlantic wholeheartedly supports the human touch in providing services to customers.

CV

  • 2013 Head of Asia Pacific, Virgin Atlantic
  • 2012 Country manager, Virgin Atlantic, Shanghai oversee operations in Mainland China
  • 2010 Country manager, Virgin Atlantic, Kenya
  • 2007 Strategy Analyst, Virgin Atlantic UK Head Office

"We want to make sure we are delivering a little bit of fun in flying by providing a fantasy experience by allowing our staff to show their individuality to deliver that human touch, which is crucial about delivering good service," he said. Virgin boasts that it introduced the first fully-flat seating and offers amenities like a club house, onboard bars, English high-tea and masseurs. 

Engagement, Rose said, is the thread that ties together the more than 300 brands in the Virgin Group, including businesses as disparate as Virgin Active (a gym), Virgin Money, Virgin Mobile, Virgin Festival in Australia, and Virgin Cafes in Japan, as well as the highly anticipated Virgin Galactic. "There are limited  business links between them," Rose said. "Rather they are linked together more due to the marketing and customer engagement. When somebody thinks of 'Virgin', they would think of the customer service, fun, innovative, a challenger brand—that's what Virgin is all about."

Which is not to say advertising is not important, especially given Virgin Atlantic's small scale relative to the likes of Cathay Pacific and British Airways. "Marketing is very important, and thanks to our global creative agency Y&R, I think the share of voice that we get in the market is well beyond our actual size and the number of passengers that we carry," he said, adding that "marketing is not just relying on advertising, but also about customer engagement."

He noted that in new markets like China, the new generation who are interested in flying are less familiar with the airline's brand story. "Hence the marketing task that we have in China is more about taking our customers to relive the brand story and making sure it is relevant for today rather than talking about past success," he said.

Virgin is always looking for marketing and sponsorship opportunities, especially those that reflect Britain and suit its brand values. For example, in Hong Kong it works closely with the British Chamber of Commerce, which supports and encourages British businesses.

"We are a British airline, proud to have the Union Jack on the front of our planes and promote Britain to our customers," Rose said. "It is a very competitive market, that's why our marketing and sponsorships are more focused and identified by those who are interested in flying to the UK for business, holidays, study and for visiting families and friends."

In 2013, for example, Virgin Atlantic sponsored the Jaguar Land Rover golf tournament in Shanghai. "As we are both British brands we share the same marketing synergy in engaging Asian customers through mutual attraction to the 'Britishness' about us," Rose noted. 

The British Government and UK Trade Industry have been engaged in major marketing promotions such as the 'Great’ Britain campaign, which Rose said have also benefited the airline.

Rose spent and his early childhood in the Scottish countryside and later lived all over Europe as his father served in the British Army. After living in Kenya and Shanghai, he finds Hong Kong an easy place to live, especially as a British expat. With a love for hiking, safari fishing and wildlife photography, he considers himself a country gentleman sitting in a city office, and has vowed that the Oxfam 100k Trailwalker race is one of his new-year resolutions.

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