CEO Russi Batliwala of broker Chapman Freeborn is a true workhorse. When it comes to the charter business, the 54-year-old professional has experienced the entire spectrum from A to Z. Now he has decided to scale down his operational activities and concentrate more on strategic issues. This includes new projects such as providing additional freighter capacity to the market.
Long gone are the days of 80 cigarettes a day, two phones constantly fixed to his head, and being 24/7 on duty even on Sundays and public holidays. This can’t go on forever, Russi decided some
In his aim to readjust his daily life the manager re-discovered a three-letter word for himself: FUN. “Having fun doing what I love has become a guiding principle for me,” he states. In the same breath, however, he says: “I cannot rest, I’m always on the lookout for new projects, challenges and initiatives to drive our company’s activities forward.”
Sounds kind of paradox: Here the insightful Russi eager to scale down activities and have more FUN in life. There, the dynamic manager steadily on the hunt for new business opportunities, always staying mentally alert.
That’s 2018-Russi in a nutshell.
Fleet growth projected
One of the latest projects of his and broker CF’s agenda is the enlargement of their managed freighter fleet. Currently, Magma Aviation, a daughter of the CF group, exclusively operates two Boeing 747-400Fs. They are wet-leased from Air Atlanta Icelandic and mostly deployed on transatlantic routes linking Frankfurt-Hahn and Greenville-Spartanburg Airport in South Carolina. According to Russi, in September 2018, a third Jumbo freighter will be added to Magma’s fleet.
And that’s not all. “We expect Magma will further expand its freighter fleet,” he says. Not necessarily with 747Fs but possibly B757Fs, A330Fs or B767Fs instead. “To fill supply gaps and niches in various markets particularly on medium-haul sectors.”
“The Magma Aviation fleet allows us to offer not only aircraft from a variety of global operators to our clients but now also our own in-house capacity.” “This is unique in the industry and we have very positive feedback from our global business partners.”
Business conditions in brokerage have changed substantially
After being 32 years with Chapman Freeborn who other than he is competent enough to review the development of the cargo charter business during the last decades.
“When I started we were about 10 staff at CF,” he recalls. Today, 260 extremely dedicated, experienced and highly professional people are on the payroll of the London Gatwick Airport-based broker, generating annual sales in the region of US$500 million.
No deal done without consent of lawyers and compliance
Air charter and brokerage has become much more professional, requiring a high degree of specialization, legal understanding and product knowledge. The many geopolitical issues in the world make things sometimes very complicated, he notes.
Simultaneously, regulators have steadily increased the bureaucratic hurdles, set up a framework of new rules, making life more and more complicated for brokers. That’s why many have given up since there is no more room left for amateurs or players falling temporarily short of cash flow or simply not following the rules.
To avoid costly litigation and mistakes “we employ lawyers and together with our compliance team they protect us and our clients, checking and verifying all intended business transactions,” Russi states. “Due to compliance reasons we are forced to regularly turn down quite a number of charters,” he regrets.
Business enlargement and specialization go hand in hand
A policy of diversification is Chapman Freeborn’s answer to these ongoing changes of the business landscape. “We have acquired Intradco, a specialist in animal transportation that is doing very well. Our on-board courier services are growing rapidly and in 2017 we purchased additional shares in Magma Aviation. We are continuing to look for additional businesses that can enhance the value of our network.
And what about FUN? “When ending this interview, I fly from Hamburg to London to dine there tonight with some of my Indian family members,” he states. Russi’s father was an Indian pilot as was his grandad. His German mother became the first foreign flight attendant serving on Air India. He and his Italian wife’s elder daughter are working for a major European airline, while the younger one still attends school.
Coming back to the subject of FUN he mentions a convincing example: Participating in the groups outing to Malta in May 2018, with almost all CF staff attending the excursion, “was fun and gives me great pleasure.” “I am really proud of what my colleagues and I have achieved over all these years and what better way is there of saying thank you to everyone than bringing them all together every year for some real FUN!”
From CEO to chairman?
Looking for new projects and ideas are constantly passing through his mind even when relaxing in a deckchair at his home close to Frankfurt. “I never stop looking for the next opportunity. Standing still as a business is not an option,” confesses the majority owner of CF (58 percent).
Asked about his future CF role the CEO remains vague: “There is not much left, except for eventually becoming chairman one day.”
Before taking off to London he expresses a wish: “please mention that since two years I am a TIACA board member.” “I strongly believe in The International Air Cargo Association and it needs all the support it can get.”
The organization’s next Air Cargo Forum and Exhibition takes place in Toronto, Canada from October 16-18, with many of the industry major players attending the event