George Edmunds, Chief Executive, HAESL
Tell us about your new role
I am moving to HAESL (Hong Kong Aero Engine Services Limited) as Chief Executive. HAESL is a 50:50 joint venture between HAECO (a wholly owned Swire Pacific entity) and Rolls-Royce. Basically, we repair and overhaul engines from wide-body passenger aircraft as part of the service agreements Rolls-Royce has with airlines. We accept whole engines and break them down into modules, inspect them and decide whether they need to be refurbished or replaced. And once we’ve got all the parts back together again, we rebuild the engine.
Cathay Pacific is a big customer, but Rolls-Royce sends engines from all over its global network to Hong Kong, so a lot of the engines that Cathay Cargo carries in and out of the city are being serviced by HAESL. Although the engine movements are contracted by Rolls-Royce, we do contract flights using a number of freight forwarders for parts. We are a big user of CX252, which brings us components from London in the morning, so we’re a big Cathay Cargo customer directly or indirectly.
What was your most memorable experience at Cathay Cargo?
The moment that stands out is the phone call on 31 December 2021, which told us that flight crew could no longer effectively operate other than in closed loop if they were spending time overseas. Initially, we had to ground the freighter fleet, but then I remember the speed at which we repurposed the schedule, and then slowly built capacity, increasing regional flights and reinstating 15 transpacific frequencies a week within two weeks of being offline. Unfortunately, we remained offline for Europe and South West Pacific for a few months. The thing that stands out is the speed and professionalism with which everyone responded to what was a huge blow. All teams across the organisation came together to overcome the challenges and deliver the best possible outcome.
What was your proudest moment?
I think that amid all these operational challenges we shouldn’t lose focus on the amount that we managed to achieve in improving Cathay Cargo as a business, not only from a service delivery perspective, but also as a much more digitally capable business. It is impressive, for example, that we delivered Click & Ship, upgraded the website and set out a clear roadmap for how we will continue to develop. I am convinced that air cargo is in the process of going through a dramatic change in the way that we do business with our customers because of the potential of digital solutions, and we didn’t forget that. Cathay Cargo is now in a strong position to compete in a much more digitally oriented marketplace.
What was the biggest lesson learned at Cathay?
I think the importance of having a clear strategy that then informs the team what the most important initiatives are to take the business forward. And then, having created that strategy, to have trust in the team to go and execute it, without being too prescriptive about how they should execute it.
What will you miss?
Clearly, the people on the team. I think that the can-do attitude of the Cathay Cargo team is special. I got to see how they react to pressure and rise up to the challenges we’ve faced, and I will also miss their friendship hugely.
One piece of advice for James
I think James will cope admirably without advice from me, but if there was one thing, then I’d say that the market is the market – and you can’t do much about the market. But he has a team that has the experience and the capability to outperform the market, and they’ve done that. And with the right support, they’ll be extremely well-positioned to carry on doing just that.
James Evans, GM Cargo Commercial
How long have you worked for Cathay Pacific?
My very first job 23 years ago was in Cargo when I started out as a Swire Management Trainee. I sat at a desk just outside my office now and I remember it so vividly. I guess your first job will always have a big impact on you. One of my enduring memories was what a great and fun group of people there were in cargo. I spent time in the sales office, then in San Po Kong, and in our hub operations too, and it’s lovely that there are many members of the team from those days still in Cathay Cargo today. We are so fortunate to have this incredible experience and deep subject matter expertise, as well as newer members of the team who bring different ideas, different skills and expectations that help keep Cathay Cargo moving ahead.
Do you have any past cargo-related experience?
No matter what you do in Cathay, you’re never too far from Cargo, nor should you be because it is such a big part of our business. Early in my career I had postings in Karachi, Saudi Arabia and Dubai and cargo was an important focus in all of those places.
I’ve spent many years on the passenger side of the business, covering Marketing and Sales in Japan, revenue management and airline planning in Hong Kong and there are many parallels with cargo.
My more recent roles were in Employee Experience, Crew Management and Product (now Customer Experience Design) and the thread that runs through all of these roles is the importance of the customer. While the ‘customer’ in each of these roles differed, the discipline and importance of customer-centricity were similar.
How have you been settling into your new role?
The first weeks of any new role is very much about understanding the priorities, the issues and, very importantly, how the team operates. It will come as no surprise that I have been spending a lot of time in meetings listening and asking questions. There is an incredible amount of expertise in the team and everyone, including my predecessor George, has been incredibly forthcoming and patient in explaining the world of cargo to me. We are looking ahead to 2024 and there’s a focus on our plans and forecasts. What I will be doing more of in the months ahead is spending time with our customers both here in Hong Kong and overseas, and with the members of the Cathay Cargo team. It’s very important to find time to meet with people.
How do you see the business in the coming months?
We are into the peak season now and we are seeing demand pick up nicely, particularly out of Hong Kong and the Greater Bay Area. Looking ahead to next year, while our freighter capacity will be similar to this, the big growth will be in passenger belly capacity. Overall our capacity growth will be nearly 13 per cent, which means there is lots of opportunity.
One of the many reasons I’ve wanted to join Cargo Commercial was because of the development of the brand and our customer focus. The Cathay Cargo brand has grown, as has customer-centricity as a discipline. Our brand campaign, We Know How, may have just three words, but they’re powerful because they brilliantly articulate what Cathay Cargo is about, and who wouldn’t want to be part of this? Looking further ahead, we need to continue to look at how we work directly with key customers through API connections to their own booking systems, as we have been trialling with Kuehne + Nagel, and how we can reach a wider customer base by working with third-party platforms. .
What do you like to do outside of work?
My wife and I have two young boys – a four-year-old and a two-year-old. I’m pleased that, with the help of an excellent sleep expert, the boys are now sleeping through the night (mostly). Weekends are spent taking care of the boys, often at the beach or park. trying to tire them out. There was something quite nice about a simpler life through the pandemic, and we were lucky to have had that somewhat calmer time with the boys then, but I fell out of my exercise routine and I know need to stay fit and healthy for all the travel in this role. I used to run a lot, but it’s been five or six years since my last marathon and I’d like to do another before the decade is out.