Metaphorically speaking, another good man bites the dust!
We saw Jacques Ancher going into the hall of fame this year and now Des Vertannes follows into retirement and we would sincerely hope that his picture will hang there sometime in the near future.
Des made it clear earlier this year that he thinks it’s time to step down, look to his grandchildren somewhat more and generally take it easier after having spent around 44 years in the air cargo
Not an easy decision when you have given most of your professional life to support and grow our business.
I have known Des for very many of these past 44 years and am proud of the friendship which we have developed within this period of time.
Having Des just slip quietly out of the door is not what many of his colleagues and friends would like to see.
I can’t imagine him packing his know how and connections into an old box, and leaving it at that!
We are happy that Des, with five days to go before he bows out, agreed to give his comments on a few questions CargoForwarder Global put to him.
Q: Des, when looking back on all those 44 years in the aviation business - what would you have seen as your biggest challenge?
A: There were many. Three spring to mind though:
Firstly, back in 1980 British Airways gave me the responsibility of growing revenues in Saudi Arabia and the Gulf area. I can tell you, this was no easy job in that part of the world those days considering there was no infrastructure in place. No staff and no handling to speak of.
Secondly, just after 9/11, we at Menzies decided that we should integrate six independent handling entities into one. I was handed the job. Very difficult considering investment in the aviation world in 2001 after the 9/11 disaster was almost nil. We did it by ensuring that all patiently went about structuring it and that the process was always visible to our clients. To top it all, the Board even OK’d a 3 million pound sterling investment in the “Hermes IT platform.”
And the third? Of course IATA. Unifying the industry in order to take on the job of transportation in a very hard time of economic stagnation. A very large challenge. We did not manage it all yet, but have come a long way to achieving it.
Q: Can you explain to us how or what induced you to go into the air cargo business?
A: Simple answer to that - it was my parents. As I was the eldest of ten children, my parents needed me to go out and earn money to support the family upkeep instead of attending university. There was a vacancy at British European Airways (BEA) for a Cargo Assistant. I got the job and so I started my career in this wonderful world of aviation.
I must add though, my dream at that time was to become a teacher.
Q: Was it a difficult transition moving to the handling side of the business (Menzies / AMI) after having being “carrier orientated?”
A: I suppose all transition is somewhat difficult.
I’d spent fourteen years with British Airways and a further nine with Air Canada before moving into the handling world.
One new and difficult experience was having to deal first-line with union negotiations and modernizing collective bargaining agreements.
Something else which was new to me was the aim of making Menzies a different service provider by integrating the wholesale activities of AMI as a supplement to the Menzies handling services.
Q: You later moved back to the airlines as top cargo manager at Gulf Air and Etihad. How would you describe their progression to date and what advice would you leave them with?
A: I would not venture any particular advice. I tremendously enjoyed my years at Gulf Air and Etihad and working with James Hogan, whom I owe much to.
Etihad especially has many opportunities to match the services of the likes of Emirates and Qatar. They have clearly set their strategy in place and are moving in the right direction with their investment plans with other carriers. This will give them the market reach and access they need and they view it as a long term strategy. I’d definitely support this.
Q: Many wondered why you took up the challenge of heading IATA’s cargo department.
What has IATA Cargo achieved in the past four years under your leadership and where do you think they’ll have to change course fast in order to keep up with future developments?
A: Four main issues in those four years.
- Building “industry unity” for the ensuring that the key priorities we’d set for the future are achieved and making sure that all heads of cargo at IATA fully supported this move. We managed that!
- Modernizing the relationship between carriers and forwarders. Not an easy task, but one which we have got into motion through our project called “Cargo Agency Modernization Program” (CAMP).
- Our Paperless Project. E-freight and E-AWB, both being driven forward as fast as possible with the aim of this being standard within the next 2-3 years.
- Last, but by no means least, the “Industry Regulator Collaboration” which is geared towards the enhancement of safety and security within our industry which has been faced with enormous costs increases in this area since 2010.
I don’t think there is a need to change course very much.
As long as the GACAG members continue to pursue the priorities we have set out together and advocate them; then I think the momentum we have in place will continue for the good of all.
I’d like to add that it would be of greater benefit if IATA were to give cargo more recognition. This I think is starting to take place since Toy Tyler took the helm at IATA. He has been most helpful to us and I’m sure this will continue so.
Q: Last, but not least – what’s Des going to do with all this spare time on his hand?
A: Very simple my friend! – I’ve got six grandchildren with number seven on the way, and a great wife and family I’ve not seen much of for the past nine years. So I think at least for the first twelve months - priority time with them, and of course, them with me.
My advice to a good old friend would be – “don’t walk out altogether, take your time and hopefully we’ll all have the chance of meeting up with you to exchange views in the somewhat not too
If this were to be the case, then we can only add – “out of sight, is not out of mind” and very many of us will think back fondly on those good days with you.
All the best mate!
John Mc Donagh