Last night I went to a party at JFK. A party thrown by an airline company. Let’s be clear: this is not something a normal Manhattanite would do under normal circumstances. JFK can be a massive pain in the ass to get to—traffic frequently sucks—and when you get there it is not the most attractive or exciting place in the five boroughs. And company parties… an aversion to them surely requires no further explanation. Except that this was a party thrown by Virgin Atlantic. And there are several things that make Virgin Atlantic special. For one thing, my friend Lou Capozzi and I calculated that I had probably spent three months over the past decade on Virgin Altantic’s planes. That kind of frequent flying apparently earned me a limo ride to the party courtesy of the airline and a VIP pass, which is exactly the kind of customer service I’ve come to expect. For another thing, this was a chance to meet Richard Branson, one of the most compelling business leaders of our time. And the Virgin Atlantic JFK lounge staff, who are always charming, enthusiastic and eager to please. But mostly, it was a chance to see a company that understood the value of authenticity and the link between corporate culture and performance long before those topics became pervasive and long before I started writing about them. Virgin’s brand is built from the top down—a reflection of Branson’s personality and values—and from the ground up, which is to say that its employees all seem to understand what the brand stands for and how to convey that to customers. I don’t think I’ve ever met a Virgin employee who was not a terrific ambassador for the brand, and as a result a huge number of Virgin customers—myself included—are advocates and evangelists for the company. Throw in a commitment to corporate responsibility (a video for its Change for Children campaign airs during every flight) and environmental leadership and you have a pretty good template for a 21st century company that’s authentic, responsible, engaged, and credible. And throws a pretty good party.