The founder of JetBlue reveals the crucial business advice he would give to his 25-year-old self

David Slotnick/Business InsiderJetBlue founder David Neeleman.
  • David Neeleman is one of the most successful airline entrepreneurs in the world.
  • He’s the founder of JetBlue and Azul as well as a cofounder of Morris Air and WestJet.
  • He’s also a co-owner of TAP Air Portugal.
  • Neeleman cofounded Morris Air in 1984, at the age of 25.
  • The airline boss shared with Business Insider the advice he would give his 25-year-old self at the beginning of his career.

David Neeleman is one of the most experienced and successful entrepreneurs in the history of the airline industry. The affable, Brazilian-born, Utah-raised businessman has had a hand in the founding of four successful airlines over the last 35 years.

He’s the founder of JetBlue and Azul Brazilian Airlines as well as a cofounder of Morris Air and WestJet.

He’s also one of the co-owners of Portuguese national airline TAP Air Portugal.

Earlier this year, Neeleman, 58, announced plans to launch his fifth airline, an American low-cost carrier called Moxy.

Neeleman’s career as an airline entrepreneur started early, when he co-founded Morris Air in 1984, at the age of 25.

He served as Morris Air’s president from 1988 until it was sold to Southwest Airlines in 1994 for a reported $US129 million.

“I sold Morris Air to Southwest because [the airline] was really vulnerable,” he told Business Insider in an interview earlier this year. “I’m sitting in Delta Air Lines’s hub in [Salt Lake City, Utah], I didn’t have a lot of capital at the time and one of my guys told me, ‘You know if Delta just matched all your fares they’d be revenue positive’ and take so much of our market share.”

“We were pretty vulnerable and Southwest wants us, plus when someone hands you $US15 million at 33 years old you’re like, ‘Yeah! I’ll take it,'” Neeleman added.

After working at Southwest Airlines for a while after the merger, he left and helped cofound WestJet, now Canada’s second largest airline. In 1998, Neeleman founded JetBlue, a New York-based boutique airline that melded premium service and amenities with low cost.

He followed that up with the founding of Azul Brazilian Airlines in 2008, a venture that has now become one of the largest carriers in South America.

So what advice would the David Neeleman of today give to his 25-year-old self?

Have personal control of the business and know the industry in which you are working, Neeleman said.

“Everything I’ve ever been involved in that I didn’t control or run and was outside of my area of expertise I’ve lost money in,” he said. “It’s almost unanimous.”

From there, the goal is to differentiate yourself from the pack.

“Be passionate. Be the best and create something that no one else has,” Neeleman told us. “Build a better mousetrap.”

“If you build a better mousetrap, people will beat a path to your door,” the airline boss said. “I really believe that.”

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