Meet Cathay Pacific Cargo’s new chief

Director Commercial and Cargo Ronald Lam explains the airline's restructure and his plans for cargo

Tell me a bit about yourself…

I have enjoyed a 21-year career in aviation and joined Cathay Pacific in 1996. My career at Cathay Pacific has spanned roles as GM Information Technology for three years, GM Sales and Distribution for two years and before being promoted to GM level, I was Manager Cargo Sales and Marketing. In my latest role, I was at HAECO (Hong Kong Aircraft Engineering Company Limited) as Director & General Manager Hong Kong Operations. HAECO’s Hong Kong business employs around 6,000 people providing heavy and line maintenance to global airlines at Hong Kong International Airport.

What changes have you seen to the cargo business in the time you’ve been away?

The expansion of our passenger network has enabled us to grow our cargo capacity substantially. While Cathay continues to operate a similar number of freighters compared to when I was last working at the airline, there have been some important changes around the world in terms of market dynamics and technology. Here, at HKIA, we have our state-of-the-art Cathay Pacific Cargo Terminal operated by wholly-owned subsidiary, Cathay Pacific Cargo Services Limited to cater for the growing air cargo demand in the region. It is also clear that customer expectations have grown. As a cargo business, these changes have necessitated a more specialised and professional approach to the way we function commercially. We now have a wider range of specialised products to cater for different market segments; we use technology and market intelligence much more effectively to identify commercial opportunities and we work closer with our customers through our dedicated sales teams both here in Hong Kong and in the outports.

Could you explain the restructure, and particularly why Cathay Pacific felt there was no longer a need for a Director of Cargo?

First of all, I am the ‘Director of Cargo’. The role has not disappeared and Cargo will continue to have a voice at the top of the company. There are different ways of organising ourselves as an airline, with pros and cons to each. However, we have chosen to focus on the synergy between our passenger and cargo businesses.

Currently, our freighter fleet contributes approximately half of our capacity with the other half provided by our passenger aircraft bellies. While both of these aircraft types remain pivotal to Cargo’s future, they require careful management so as to maximise our return on these assets. For instance, take network planning. Until our recent reorganisation, passenger network planning and freighter planning had two separate teams in two separate departments despite the clear synergies between them. These functions are now integrated under one department, with a single reporting channel to me.

An additional advantage of the new structure is that there is now a single person – the Director Commercial and Cargo – accountable for all of the airline’s top line revenue: passenger, cargo and ancillaries, up to and including inflight sales revenue. Whereas in the past revenue accountability has sat with multiple people in the organisation, this new single point of accountability enables the organisation to execute a clear focus on revenue generation.

Yet Cargo Services and the Commercial teams are separate – is that streamlined?

Again, due to the importance of our passenger aircraft to the cargo operation, it made sense to incorporate the many interdependent features of our operation under one roof, such as on-time performance, the coordination of all the different handling companies and the cargo terminal operation. Therefore, Cargo Services now reports to Algernon Yau, our Director Service Delivery.

Both Algernon and I have past experience in cargo. This is not something we’re new to, and we look forward to working together to ensure that we deliver on our service promise to our customers and continue to meet their high expectations.

Does it reflect a downgrade in the importance that Cathay Pacific gives to cargo?

Absolutely not. The fact remains that no matter how we organise ourselves, Hong Kong will remain a leading global cargo hub. Cathay Pacific will continue to support and, more importantly, develop the air cargo industry that is vital to Hong Kong’s status as a global aviation hub.

Cargo will remain as an important revenue generator and contributor to the overall general airline business. That is why we want a renewed focus: with one person accountable for all the revenue generation because we recognise that cargo is such an integral part of that.

Are there any plans to remove Cathay Pacific Cargo as a standalone brand?

No. Cathay Pacific Cargo will continue to be a separate brand that will be recognised by our customers as a brand that represents consistency, quality and professionalism for air cargo carriage – and that will not change either.

With an industry that relies so keenly on relationships, what will this mean for the rapport customers have built up with the cargo team?

One of the key parts of Cathay Pacific’s transformation strategy is about being customer centric. This applies equally to the cargo side as the passenger side. In fact this strategy will make us see things through the customer’s lens more than before.

That strong relationship between us and our customers will continue. Within Commercial, both myself and Nelson Chin, our new GM Cargo Commercial, have worked in cargo for a number of years. We both have long-established relationships with many of customers who are still around today. We will ensure that we strengthen existing relationships and build new ones.

How do you think the expertise and service excellence that customers rely will be well retained under the restructure?

One of the main aims of the reorganisation is to streamline the way we work. That puts the focus on us being more productive and more customer centric. We looked at how we operate today and what future changes were required to be fit-for-purpose and more effective, without undermining our core values and value proposition to our customers. Our commitment to expertise and service excellence remain.

The details of the new Cargo structure are yet to be announced, but we will be more streamlined and cohesive in how we work across teams while ensuring that all the key talents and skills are not lost in what will be a leaner, more agile and responsive organisation.

We plan to announce the new organisation in July.

What is your vision for the business?

It’s still early days and it’s not a vision as such, but I can tell you what I want to see. Firstly, I want to see Cathay Pacific Cargo continue to be a reliable player in the logistics and supply chain industry, facilitating cargo movement on a very extensive network using market-leading solutions and products. Secondly, I would like to see a strong work culture with our customers in mind and collaborative work across different teams worldwide with a focus on being innovative and progressive.

What are you most looking forward to in your new role?

I think it has to be the people I work with, whether they are customers or our own team, both here in Hong Kong and around the world. Many of them are old friends who are very professional in their outlook, but also fun to be around when we are not working, so I am looking forward to that as well.