JetBlue Airways Chief Executive Officer David Neeleman, a resident of New Canaan, was the keynote speaker last week at the Stamford Board of Realtors’ annual meeting. Neeleman told those in attendance that the real estate and airline industries have a lot in common, especially customer service.

One president spends time serving blue potato chips 35,000 feet in the air. Another emcees meetings with his much-appreciated sense of humor and leads Stamford’s Realtors in their efforts to protect homeowners’ rights. Their industries and jobs are vastly different, but both have made a name for themselves by concentrating on serving their customers.

JetBlue Airways Chief Executive Officer David Neeleman, a New Canaan resident, was the keynote speaker at the Stamford Board of Realtors’ annual meeting last week. JetBlue, which started about four years ago and has quickly become known for its friendly service, nice leather seats and flight-time DIRECTTV service, is also one of the only airlines to turn a profit this year.

That’s due to the airline’s good treatment of its employees and the high level of customer service those employees pass on to customers, according to Neeleman. The CEO said he spends a lot of time speaking with crew members and the company has rigorous hiring standards.

“That’s the reason we’re successful,” he said. “We have the best people in the industry.”

But Neeleman also spends a lot of time with JetBlue’s passengers. Every week he flies on one of JetBlue’s flights and talks to his customers. That’s where Michael Feldman, outgoing president of the Stamford Board of Realtors – and the board’s Realtor of the Year – met Neeleman. Feldman was flying back from Florida and met the JetBlue chief executive as he was wearing an apron and passing out blue potato chips to the passengers. So Feldman asked Neeleman if he would consider speaking at the board’s annual meeting, and Neeleman agreed.

“As a Realtor, you’re essentially an entrepreneur,” Feldman said in a prepared statement. “You live and die by the service you deliver. I thought our members could learn from him, as well as be inspired.”

Neeleman talked about some of the similarities between the real estate and airline industries.

“We’re in the service business,” he said. “It’s all we do … You are in the service business. We have a lot in common.”

Both real estate agents and individual airlines need to differentiate themselves from their competitors to succeed, Neeleman said. Most people don’t care what airline they take as long as it’s cheap and they get where they want to go, he said. But JetBlue tries to have people enjoy the journey.

“The success of JetBlue … has 100 percent to do with the fact that we have tried to differentiate ourselves from other airlines,” he said.

Real estate agents need to do the same thing, he said. There are hundreds of Realtors for buyers and sellers to choose from, so agents need to create value for their customers, Neeleman said.

Feldman said he thought Neeleman would be a good speaker because of certain similarities between JetBlue and some smaller real estate firms. Most members of the Realtor board belong to a small office, and JetBlue started as a small company going up against big, established airlines.

Community Service

Feldman and other board members are trying to help raise the perceived value of all of Stamford’s real estate agents through publicity, Feldman said. Realtors across the state often act as advocates for homeowners’ rights and often are generous donors and volunteers, but the public doesn’t always realize Realtors’ roles. So Feldman and the Stamford Board of Realtors has set out to help the public recognize when Realtors bring to the community.

“We represent not only all of our members, but we also represent and are advocates for homeowners,” he said.

The board has put more of an effort into publicizing the six or eight scholarships it gives out to Stamford students every year and to the volunteer work done by its members.

“We try to show the public that we’re more than commission-based, gold-driven,” Feldman said.

Many of the board’s members volunteer with local schools and with other charities in the area, Feldman said. Incoming President Geri Guzinski is the president of a local PTO and uses her marketing skills to raise money for a football team, Feldman said.

The board recently hired a public relations expert to help publicize its events and volunteer work. Esther Trencher of Scarsdale, N.Y., has been helping the board get stories about its events into local papers.