Chris Bowden joins Cathay Pacific Cargo to look after global partnerships, formulate a global cooperation strategy and lead charter sales. He takes over from James Conlin, who has moved on to a new post for Swire in Hong Kong
Tell us a little about yourself.
This is my third position with Cathay Pacific in four years. My first role was as Country Manager in Indonesia, and I was based there until March 2020. Then I moved to Hong Kong, but carried on in the role until September that year. At that point I moved over to the airline’s Customer Care team, a global network of call centres that handle customer enquiries.
What were you doing prior to joining Cathay?
I spent 10 years working for another Swire company, Swire Pacific Offshore. The company owns and operates support vessels for the oil and gas industry. I had a variety of roles there, from operations to commercial management to HR. My last role was as General Manager for Southeast Asia. I was based in six countries over those 10 years in seven different jobs. I joined the Swire Management Programme at the same time as my predecessor in my new role, and I know Jamie very well.
Tell us about your previous roles at Cathay.
The Country Manager role is a kind of general oversight role, covering all areas of the operation. So I spent a bit of time with the Cargo team in Indonesia, among many other things. In Customer Care, I was Head of Planning and Business Improvement. That covered a broad, behind-the-scenes remit, working on reporting, data analytics, workforce management, communications, engagement and quite a few major projects. I think the standout achievements for the team were the introduction of WhatsApp as a communication method for customers, and then what we call the NCCS or Genesys Project, which changed the infrastructure for all of our customer care agents around the world. I hope some of this experience will cross over to the changes that are taking place in Cargo.
Could you outline your Cargo experience?
We have a very, very competent team in Indonesia, led by Cargo Manager Nova Triana, who is responsible for the day-to-day operations and commercial management. So I would go out to the airport once a week and I’d try – where possible – to time it with the weekly Wednesday freighter arrival. I’d get to spend some time with the cargo team, observe operations and get some face time with the team. I’d also attend meetings with key freight forwarders and shippers, and present the awards at the cargo agent award ceremonies.
Mainly my Cargo time was spent supporting Nova and making sure that she felt she had the right tools for the business to run properly, but the other key role in cargo as Country Manager was that you got to meet some quite high-net-worth individuals – normally Marco Polo Club members who were often business owners, and that could potentially lead to sales opportunities for Cargo.
Tell us about your new job role.
Essentially it is oversight of our major global partnerships; basically a group of high-value global forwarders, which have dedicated account managers. I look after the relationships with these valuable customers. The team also manages chartering, so we are the focal point for most charter opportunities around the network.
What are you most looking forward to?
After two years in Customer Care, where the focus was all internal, I’m probably most looking forward to talking to people outside the business and seeing what their feel of the market is and how we can work together to maximise opportunities for them and for us.
What do you think of Cargo so far?
Aviation is very exciting because you’re connecting people. With passengers you’re helping to reunite loved ones or sending somebody to university for the first time, for example – there’s a real human element to it. You’d think Cargo would be the opposite, but there’s a massive human link there as well, and particularly at the moment. The fact that we’re responsible for sending vaccines around the world, or bringing in testing kits, or delivering fresh produce to keep places running in times of constrained supply – it feels like there’s a much higher mission to what we do. And I’m excited about helping to manage that for Hong Kong and the rest of the world, while maintaining the networks that we’ve created so that we can keep people connected and keep goods flowing at a pretty difficult time.
Are you looking forward to some kind of normality returning?
Yes, very much, so I can build better relationships with our customers. Jamie told me that in normal times he’d be visiting somebody once or twice a month. For now everything is done by Teams or phone. But the real hope is that we do open up or there is an ability, however we manage it, to get out and see people in person.
What do you get up to outside of work?
I’ve got three kids, all boys aged six, four and eight months, so they occupy a lot of my time, and I don’t know the last time that I slept through the night! I do a lot of fitness activities, so CrossFit and HIIT workouts with the illustriously and aptly named DB DadBods group (I live in Discovery Bay hence the ‘DB’) and hiking with the kids.
Since being in Hong Kong, I’ve maximised fitness. I go Dragonboat racing, I’m part of a local football team and I do some Spartan competitions. Whenever I get the time I Iike reading, but that’s definitely gone by the wayside recently. I can hardly remember what I did before I had kids, but whatever it was, it’s stopped! I grew up just south of Durham and I’m a Newcastle United fan – so things are going well there, for the time being at least.