Passing the Torch

As Jeanette Mao moves on after three years as Head of Cargo Global Partnerships for Cathay Pacific, she offers advice to James Conlin as he steps into the role

James, you’ve already held a few roles with Cathay Pacific. Where did you work, and how may those experiences factor into your new job as Head of Cargo Global Partnerships?

James: I joined Cathay Pacific about five years ago and have held three positions. First I spent a year with the Airline Procurement Department, where I was Procurement Manager for cabin interiors. My team worked on the Airbus A350-900 cabin, finalising procurement of the inflight entertainment systems and Wi-Fi, among other products. It was a mix of dealing with internal and external stakeholders, balancing the needs of various Cathay departments, and negotiating with suppliers.

My other two roles have been country manager jobs. The first was in Bangladesh, which is an exciting place to learn about cargo at a local level. There’s a passenger service and Cathay Pacific also operates three freighters a week. Our cargo business was larger than our passenger business in Bangladesh, which is the second-largest exporter of garments globally. I was there just over a year and a half and spent a lot of time focused on cargo services, because we faced big challenges in terms of infrastructure. But I had a very skilled team who could manage those challenges very well, and the business grew dramatically.

Then I moved on to South Korea and have been the country manager there for the past three years. That is another large cargo operation – Cathay Pacific has three freighters weekly, and there’s also a daily Air Hong Kong freighter and 42 passenger bellies to fill each week. It’s a more mature market, dominated by electronics. I am lucky to work with a great team there who have been working hard to grow that business and capture a greater share of special and priority cargo.

With trade tensions building, did you see any impacts on Korea’s cargo business?

James: In 2017 there was enormous growth, and in 2018 we maintained a similar level of revenue. But this year the local economy has been slowing, and is also impacted by the trade war. Korea is located between two giants – a lot of cargo comes from China on ocean freight to Incheon, then goes via air freight to the US. It’s been a tough environment of late.

Jeanette, what advice can you give James for working with global customers in the current market?

Jeanette: Cargo is known as a cyclical business, going through both good times and bad times, but it’s also a people business. It’s very important that the Head of Cargo Global Partnerships works hand in hand with our global partners and ensures a long-term partnership that shares in growth together. So my advice to James is to get on the road and meet with customers. The first thing he needs to do – get to know the customers by listening to what their needs and pain points are. Those drive much of what Cathay Pacific Cargo does – developing products and initiatives, as we did with next-generation track and trace.

Do you have any other insights about the job to pass on?

Jeanette: When I started in August 2016 and the cargo business was starting to grow stronger. In 2017 we had a very good year, and 2018 was a record-breaking year. But from the end of 2018, the market started to soften. In the short-term, we’re responding by matching capacity to demand, but in the long run the business needs to keep investing and focusing on its service and be customer centric.

It’s also good that we turn to our big clients to get a global perspective on different markets, because there are always new opportunities to be found somewhere. For example, as cargo demand between China and the US softens, we need to understand where the traffic might shift to. Feedback from global customers can help us with network planning, helping us identify potential destinations that we can fly to.

James, what are you most looking forward to doing in your new cargo role?

James: It’s all about the people. First, I am really excited about getting to know our most valued freight forwarder partners, understanding their businesses and their needs, building those relationships and doing my bit to help develop our businesses together. And then I can see we’ve got a wonderful team here in Hong Kong, so I am really looking forward to working with them.

Jeanette, what job are you taking on next?

Jeanette: I will be General Manager Inflight Service Delivery, leading more than 12,000 cabin crew employees for the Cathay Pacific Group. I’ll look after crew engagement, covering the communications and performance, ensuring our inflight service meets a high standard and satisfies customer needs.

What did you enjoy most about your time with Cathay Pacific Cargo?

Jeanette: Cargo is a very dynamic business – you never get bored. There are always opportunities to explore and try new things. For example, I got to lead a project to make our account management more structured and objective. That introduced the Customer Value Index, which helps us understand the value that each of our global partnerships brings us while also providing more customer insights.

And the team has been great. It’s relatively small, which makes them flexible and agile so actions or decisions happen quickly. We’ve worked very closely together, so I will miss the people. But it’s been said that once you join cargo, it never leaves you. I would say, you can take me out of cargo but you can’t take cargo out of me.

I’ll also miss the customers, but they do very frequently travel on our passenger flights, so I can look forward to keeping in touch and getting their feedback on how to improve our inflight services.