Doing business as usual, avoiding major changes is not Ashwin Bhat’s goal in life. Swiss WorldCargo’s helmsman who took the cargo division’s chair on 1 October of last year from his predecessor Oliver Evans intends to turn the airline’s air freight organization into a knowledge-based unit that offers clients smart choices within a given framework. This he told CargoForwarder Global in his very first-one-on-one meeting with the media in his new role as head of cargo after being a little more than 100 days in office.
The Zurich-held bilateral took place only hours before Swiss Air Lines welcomed its first Boeing 777-300ER passenger jet at ZRH Airport, a spectacular but very humid while rainy event, broadly
covered by many media and applauded by Swiss officials and countless numbers of spectators. The renewal of the carrier’s long-haul fleet has begun with five more Triple Sevens to follow in the
months ahead and three additional units expected in 2017. The new twinjet will enable Swiss WorldCargo to offer more capacity (plus 15 percent) and enhance the environmental performance on its
“For us this is excellent news but it’s a challenge too, because we have to do our utmost to fill the additional space with shipments,” argues Ashwin Bhat, Swiss WorldCargo’s helmsman.
Ashwin is no new face to the carrier. The India-born manager jumped on board shortly after the carrier was incepted back in 2002, carrying out different tasks from Head of Area Management Asia, Middle East and Africa to VP Head of Global Area Management. So when his predecessor, cargo giant Oliver Evans decided to leave the airline and engage in the drone business instead, Ashwin with his well over a decade of experience within SWC became the natural successor from day one.
Although very well acquainted with the organization and the daily proceedings Ashwin decided to start his new job by gathering as much information as possible from both his own staff and SWC’s clients. From October until now four big tasks stood on top of his agenda: listening, understanding, dialoguing, and comprehending. It was an intense learning cycle, he confirms, a revolving period he went through. This period continues because a learning phase never ends.
His main problem during that strenuous first 100 days as Cargo Chief that brought him around the world in order to meet as many of his own local managers as possible and also a great number of clients, was the fact that a day only has 24 hours, “unfortunately not more,” he regrets retrospectively.
“During our town meetings with our staff in Zurich, New York or elsewhere, I didn’t have any presentation that I asked them to attend and listen to. Instead, I preferred the dialogue to better understand their inputs, expectations and visions on how to further develop our organization and serve the market even better.”
This way, many aspects of how the daily job could be done more efficiently or detecting where the shoes are pinching is much easier in contrast to delivering lectures. He was reaffirmed that the one-fits-all solution doesn’t work. “Practices that thrive our business in New York might fail in Dar as-Salam,” he states.
Generation change within SWC
Mr Bhat considers it an encouraging sign that no single manager left the SWC organization since he took over responsibility. The only exception is America Chief Jack Lampinski who retired last December after being in the cargo arena for much of his life. Jack is not the only one, more will follow due to age reasons. States Ashwin: “We are coming to a generation change with the following management level taking over responsibility step by step.”
Focusing on smart solutions
This comes at a time in which Swiss WorldCargo is facing challenging tasks like turning the organization into a learning unit in order to become a knowledge-based carrier. This requires massive investments in staff training, fine-tuning electronic processes for fast and efficient data transmissions, offering client-centric smart transport solutions in contrast to routine proceedings, getting as many employees as possible to a point where they develop an entrepreneurial attitude, for instance by looking proactively after customer care instead of ex post. “We are considered being one of the world’s best cargo carriers, delivering quality and utmost service. Only if we keep investing in our people in combination with product enhancements and first class service offerings will we stay on top of the pack,” he emphasizes. This includes the sales philosophy as well. “As a matter of fact we have stopped selling single flights, but our entire network instead,” he illustrates.
The manager leaves no doubt that SWC will further concentrate on premium products, particularly pharmaceuticals, despite growing competition, which doesn’t make life any easier.
Maiden flight will take the B777 to NYC
Touching the fleet aspect again, Ashwin says that in addition to the new B777s, Swiss’ daughter Edelweiss will also up its fleet by getting two new A330s, with the first coming in this year and the second in 2017. “Including these two wide bodies we’ll take a capacity leap in the region of 20 percent,” he maintains. In addition to the holds of Swiss’ own fleet, their cargo division also manages the entire air freight business of leisure carrier Edelweiss.
The first commercial flight of the new B777 is scheduled for 21 February when linking Zurich with New York. In the meantime, the Boeing twinjet will conduct a series of test flights predominantly within Europe.
Much of Swiss WorldCargo’s commercial success depends on the U.S. market - the by far most important traffic area served by the airline. Currently, Swiss flies to New York JFK, Newark, Los Angeles, Chicago, Miami, San Francisco and Boston, with New York being the largest station next to Zurich in terms of capacity offerings. The itinerary is passenger driven with cargo only playing the second fiddle, admits Ashwin. This accounts for the airline’s entire network. Asked about rates he remains tight-lipped: “They are appropriate to our service and quality. We don’t sell prices but services.”