Virgin Australia case study

The challenge

Sydney Airport is the hub of Virgin Australia’s airline operation, with more than 30,000 travellers arriving and departing daily.

As Manager Sydney Airport, Robert D’Alessio leads a team of 700 staff, who are together responsible for delivering a safe, friendly and reliable customer experience for Virgin’s clients at Australia’s biggest airport.

“It’s a fast-paced industry and the expectation is high,” says Rob’s manager, Lorie Jardine, General Manager for Ground Operations. “With the airport servicing more than 60 per cent of our aircraft, a ripple in Sydney sends a tidal wave through the entire Virgin network.”

Achieving the balance between strategic, tactical improvement and day-to-day management is critical to Sydney’s operations. “There’s something going on every moment,” says Rob. “I need to always be asking myself: Am I being as effective as I can be?”

“I realised that I needed to stop rolling my sleeves up and getting directly involved. My responsibility is not to unravel problems directly, but to pull together the right people from across the business and then offer direction that allows them to solve things.”

Robert D’Alessio
Manager Sydney Airport | Virgin Australia

The solution

In October 2012, Rob enrolled in Leading for Organisational Impact: The Looking Glass Experience through Melbourne Business School-Mt Eliza Executive Education. “The program was really about getting the most out of my time so I don’t burn out,” Rob reflects.

The program includes a comprehensive Looking Glass business simulation, to support its focus on enhancing senior leaders’ skills to bridge silos, lead effectively and engage strategically across the business.

Lorie saw first-hand Rob’s transformation in the workplace. “He was calmer and more focused,” she remembers. “He started bringing together key members from across the silos within the airport. The results were almost immediate.”

At the time, Virgin airports around Australia faced an ongoing logistical challenge. Last-minute gate changes are often necessary to meet the shifting schedules of arriving aircraft. “It sounds quite simple,” Rob explains. “But when ground staff are physically at the gate with their equipment set up and a plane is suddenly moved, it can be quite a challenge.”


The impact

Leading for Organisational Impact enabled Rob to approach the issue with a fresh perspective. He began by creating a framework that set clear and realistic expectations, before nominating key members from across the business to the project team. He also ensured engagement with stakeholders from a broad network across the business, including pilots, the airport authority, information technology and cabin crew.

“I knew this was never a matter of motivation or discipline,” says Rob. “And within a week the consultations proved this. Our on-the-ground team were working so hard, but our work systems were letting them down.”

With the issue clearly identified, the project team reworked various systems, processes and communication protocols. Over a period of two months, they improved Sydney Airport’s performance from several incidents a day to less than one failure per quarter.

“They took a problem that all airports around Australia were having and solved it,” says Rob. “It was a huge thing for us, because Virgin’s operations at Sydney Airport were some of the lowest performing for a period. It was demoralising for our staff and frustrating for our customers. But we’ve all been buoyed by this achievement—and we’ve regained the trust of our travellers.”

“Rob set the benchmark for working collaboratively across all parts of the business,” says Lorie. “That’s the best business success we could have asked for—it’s very tangible to the bottom line throughout the whole organisation.”

Reflecting on Leading for Organisational Impact, Rob says, “It was simply fantastic. I’ve been astounded by how much I’ve been able to achieve.”


Centre for Creative Leadership (CCL®)

Leading for Organisational Impact: The Looking Glass Experience was designed by the Center for Creative Leadership (CCL), a global top 10 executive education provider, ranked by the Financial Times (2002-2013). MBS-Mt Eliza is the only business school licenced to deliver CCL leadership programs.