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Journal of Management Development 19,6 456
The story of Singapore Airlines and the Singapore Girl
Deputy Head of Department/Group Head, Republic of Singapore Air Force, Singapore Keywords Airlines, Singapore, Brands, Differentiation, Strategy, Service quality Abstract Maps the strategic 50-year journey of Singapore Airlines (SIA) to identify the underlying factors that account for its extraordinary success and world-class stature. Both longitudinal and comparative research methodologies were employed. For the former, the approach taken was to systematically research SIA's historical development over the entire 50year time period. SIA was studied from its very beginning and through all phases of its development to the present day. For the latter, SIA was compared with and benchmarked against other airlines. Its unique and successful product/service differentiation strategy, epitomised by the ephemeral Singapore Girl, has turned out to be enduring and difficult-to-match over the past 25 years and still shows no signs of letting up.
Journal of Management Development, Vol. 19 No. 6, 2000, pp. 456-472. # MCB University Press, 0262-1711
Introduction The seed that was to blossom into the Singapore Airlines (SIA) of today was planted on 1 May 1947 when a Malayan Airways Airspeed Consul took off from Singapore on the first of three scheduled flights a week to Kuala Lumpur, Ipoh and Penang. Today, SIA is Singapore's best-known company, and rated consistently as Asia's ``most admired company'' (Asian Business, 1997, p. 24). Its smiling, willowy cabin attendant, outfitted in tight batik sarong kebaya designed by renowned fashion house Pierre Balmain, and marketed as the Singapore Girl, is now a well-known international service icon. In 1994, the year she celebrated her 21st birthday, the Singapore Girl became the first commercial figure to be displayed at the famed Madame Tussaud's Museum in London. Madame Tussaud's had unveiled the waxwork of the SIA's global marketing icon that year to reflect the ever-growing popularity of international travel. SIA is widely reckoned by those in the airline industry, travellers as well as its competitors, as one of the very best airlines in the world, judging from the numerous industry awards it has won. According to the Business Traveller ± Asia Pacific, SIA has become ``the standard by which all other international airlines are judged'' (Business Traveller ± Asia Pacific, 1997a, p. 3). SIA also consistently leads the industry in profitability and rides through ``rough and turbulent'' times much better than most of its rivals. It has had an impressive and continuous profit streak since it took to the skies some 25 years ago; a track record almost unheard of in the brutally cyclical airline industry (Asian Business Review, 1996, p. 34). On 1 May 1997, SIA turned 50 and celebrated its Golden Jubilee Anniversary in grand style. It was a far cry from its humble beginnings in 1947 when it started life as part of Malayan Airways.
Research methods and overview This research paper maps the strategic 50-year journey of SIA to identify the underlying factors that account for its extraordinary success and world-class stature. Both longitudinal and comparative research methodologies were employed. For the former, the approach taken was to systematically research SIA's historical development over the entire 50-year time period. SIA was studied from its very beginning and through all phases of its development to the present day. These included the fuel costs rises in the 1970s in which prices soared by 900 percent and the arrival in the region in 1986 of a strong United Airlines (which had just taken over the collapsed Pan American Pacific routes), which had an immediate and...