As airlines race to ensure traffic growth intensifies, knowledge about how far they can go with low fares to avoid losses has become crucial for their survival. Their inability to control authentic costs and service quality has become a critical issue, especially for major hub operators. The difficulties arise because much of the cost and service quality cannot be easily quantified and consequently have no place in the existing performance metrics and management practices.
The legacy mindset is still strongly influencing how the work is designed and managed within airlines. Fragmented information, departmental detachments, local optimizations, and functional hierarchies are just some of the issues. This keeps managers out of touch with reality resulting in continuous decline in passenger experience and rise in costs.
The main focus of my work is to overcome these obstacles and help airlines to create a new framework for decision making more in line with the dynamics and complexity of airline business. It is based on my first-hand experiences and opportunities to see problems from various departmental and systems perspective. Some of these problems and solutions were described in my books.
I found much inspiration for my work from system thinkers from within and from the outside of the airline industry, among them Martin Geddes. Martin is a telecoms expert but his connection with the airline industry is deeply personal. His father worked for British Airways (and its predecessor) for 34 years as a maintenance engineer. Martin grew up in a Heathrow neighbourhood in a home 'scented with kerosene', watching Concorde streak by his window. He witnessed the historical ups and downs of BA, and his travel experience stretches from a standby passenger to a 'Gold' customer. On the professional side, for a brief period in the late 1990s, Martin worked as an IT consultant to BA, architecting the first Web check-in systems.
But this is only part of the story related to Martin's interest in the airline industry. More of it is published in his insightful articles, including ‘‘Brand suicide case study: British Airways” which was my first encounter with his work. It is a rare mix of personal experiences, business insights, and parallels between telecom and the airline industry, offering glimpses of new possibilities for improvement on many fronts of these industries
This prompted me to further explore Martin's work. I found his article “The Tao of Telecoms” quite inspirational. The universal principles described in his blueprint for a lean industry transformation are applicable to many areas of the airline business and the industry as a whole. By transcending industry boundaries, Martin deepens our understanding of new possibilities and challenges conventional thinking.
No need to say that I was really thrilled when Martin accepted my invitation for an interview. We had an amazing conversation that lasted much longer than we had planned. We discussed the issues faced by airlines and telecoms, each experiencing different disruptions but sharing the same underlying management problem.
Martin's ability to rise above industrial divisions, quickly grasp common underlying problems, "see" the solutions, and explain them in an easily digestible and inspiring way was truly astonishing.
The following are excerpts from our conversation, focusing on disruption-related issues, mostly from an airline perspective, including quality, cost, optimization, risk, passenger experience, and some aspects of the lean quality revolution.
(JR-Jasenka Rapajic, MG-Martin Geddes)