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Published 14 September 2012 12:05, Updated 17 September 2012 06:06
Virgin Australia founding chief executive Brett Godfrey was so busy during his 10 years at the helm of the start-up airline that he made it home for dinner on a weeknight just 10 times in the decade.
“We had a major shareholder in London, and their day was our night,” he says. “I was home around 7:30, quarter to eight and that was when London was waking up ... you never switched off [the phone] until you went to bed.
“I had this idea that I was indispensable and it’s a stupid belief.”
Godfrey is immensely critical of the culture of “always on”.
“There is this idiocy of some start-ups that you’re completely indispensable and you have to be on call 24 hours day,” he says. “You don’t.”
To a great extent, Godfrey’s role as chief executive made him absolutely indispensable to the company. It is the level to which he let the role encroach on his private life and the effects it had on his productivity that drive his warnings to others.
His commitment to being by the phone and in contact was a drain on his efficiency.
“I was the type of person who was always up checking their phone between courses at dinner,” he says. “I could never get an hour interrupted, let alone two on my own.”
The myth of being indispensable is an easy trap to fall into but as Godfrey is at pains to point out, it’s just not sustainable.
Godfrey handed over the reins in May 2010. He was hesitant about the transition and felt ambivalent about handing his “third child” to someone else. Yet the Monday morning following his departure, he woke up feeling “contented”.
He has spent much of his time since mentoring young start-ups.
Godfrey reckons discipline and drawing a firm line between “off” and “on” are critical if you’re wanting to maintain a high level of efficiency.
The realisation was a long time coming for the entrepreneur. Even as the top dog of the company at Virgin Australia, he says he felt beholden to the demands of everyone around him.
His workload is no lighter these days.
Godfrey is a board member of Canadian airline WestJet, Tourism Australia and Auckland airport. He is an active investor in tourism projects including Makepeace Island, Quambi Estate and two other luxury properties under construction. Charitable activities both interstate and abroad, and his mentoring commitments add to his schedule.
Godfrey says discipline and the use of two phones – one personal, one private – has given him ultimate command over his time, and his efficiency.
“I can organise my time to suit me and my work, and I’m a better thinker, strategist and leader [as a consequence].”