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China 2016: CEO Q&A | Wang Zhenghua

Wang Zhenghua started with one plane in 1994. Ten years later, the government granted him a license to operate an airline. Today, Spring Airlines is a leading Chinese low-cost carrier devoted to making air travel afordable and available for more people throughout China. Spring operates mostly domestic flights, but the airline also flies to some Asian cities and has announced plans for flights to Moscow, Melbourne, Tokyo and other international destinations. Spring Airlines appeared in the BrandZ™ China Top 100 for the first time, at rank 98, with a Brand Value of $252 million. Called Spring Airlines in English, the name in Chinese characters is Spring and Autumn Airlines.

What is the essence of the Spring Airlines brand?
The most important aspect is safety. We invest heavily in our pilots and other professionals who guarantee the safety of the airline. Second is low cost. After that we try to create something special. Our target customer is young. In fact, about 80 percent of our ticket sales happen online. And we’ve created programs and marketing communications aimed at young people.

How do you reach young people, your target customers, and keep them loyal?
First, we try to reach young people in ways that appeal to them. We promote the brand and sell tickets online and we sponsor events, like concerts, to build brand exposure. We have over two million followers on Weibo (the Chinese social media equivalent to Facebook and Twitter). And we try to understand our young customers and project a youthful attitude. We enable passengers to share personal information when they book a flight. This way, passengers willing to provide personal information can find a good match when they select their seats. 

How do you see the future for Spring Airlines?
I look forward to continuing our strong growth. Since our founding in 2004, we have achieved our 10-year plan and we continue to grow at a steady rate, usually 20-to-30 percent annual increases in sales. That’s because we have a very clear market positioning. There are two ways to achieve this goal: either organically or through acquisition. Some people today are tempted to take steps in directions they’re not good at because they think they can make money, at least short term. This way is not our way. We will continue to focus on what we do well. We will expand within our core business, adding new products and services that we think match our strengths.

What values drive the business?
We encourage people to work hard, that’s number one. Second, we want people to have foresight, to plan ahead. Third, we believe in being frugal. We don’t like extravagance. And we want people who are devoted to what they do, who make a contribution to the enterprise. I try to influence people in our company to follow these values.

How are you adapting your knowledge of western airlines to China?
When I started in the tourism business in the 1980s, I looked to Europe and the United States for the roadmap of that industry. Today’s airline industry in Europe and the United States is our future. The popularity of low cost airlines in Europe and the United States signals the trend of the next 10 years in China. To adapt this model for China I will consider Chinese culture, the needs of our customers and the government regulations. 

Looking back over the past 30 years, what are you most proud of?
I still believe that if you work hard you create value. Don’t waste your time or your talent. Everything can be possible but it depends on the individual to make the efort. This is the advice that I give to my staf and they are doing well. I had a dream when I began this business and it remains a strong motivator for me. China has many low-income people who have never flown on an airplane. Perhaps it is their dream to fly someday, but they don’t have the money. It’s my dream to help them fly. I will achieve this dream as I have achieved other dreams—with hard work.