Interview with Vinu Baby, CEO, AirlinePros Shared Services

An aviation industry veteran with over 25 years’ experience with leading airlines, Vinu is both a team player and a team builder, a consummate professional and a dedicated family man. He opens up about the need to be more agile in these rapidly evolving times and the rising relevance of Shared Services in AirlinePros’ global expansion strategy.

You have a very strong aviation connect. Tell us more.

I was fascinated with airlines and had a desire to be part of this industry since my early days.  After completing my higher studies in Business Administration and Corporate Law, I was fortunate and had the privilege of starting my career working for leading international airlines including United Airlines and Qatar Airlines based at its headquarters in Doha.  This wonderful experience also gave me exposure to a wider global network, multi-cultural, and multi-national alliances. As part of the commercial headquarters and managing global and regional responsibilities gave me considerable exposure to travel, meet, learn, and work with leading networks, leaders, and colleagues from the aviation industry.

You are back in India after nearly two decades abroad. In this rapidly evolving world was there a culture shock? How was the settling in experience?

I would not say it was a culture shock as I was always deep-rooted here but will say that with more traveling and being a part of global environment for many years, one of the key learning is adaptability. Yes, there were considerable changes with evolving times and reality checks to settle down, but we managed despite the ups and downs to have a smooth transition. Till now, for sure.

As the head of the AirlinePros International Service Center your schedule is understandably hectic. Yet, you always manage to make time for everyone who reports to you. How is it possible?

It’s just part of me having a very fundamental belief and value of building the team together. Yes, its key for me to be available and support the team being part of the team. I try to ensure a very open communication and integrate our respective efforts to drive an enhanced contribution towards our goals.

After your stint with leading legacy airlines like United Airlines and Qatar Airways for so many years, now with AirlinePros you are, one can say, on the other side of the business table. How do you rate our performance as a GSA?

We as an organization have evolved as a key global player having strong vision and client base, hence despite the unprecedented situation globally we have sustained all the challenges together to grow horizontally (global presence) as well as vertically (more and more clients). Today we are enhancing our global presence and portfolio from more new accounts, prominent global clients, and markets.

We must be proud of our journey and milestones achieved thus far, which is indeed a stupendous position and rating.  It is much beyond, and key is to be ahead of the game with a continuous urge to grow and optimize our revenue streams and bring enhanced value proposition to all our stakeholders.

With so much uncertainty in the airline industry since the pandemic, how did GSAs adapt – and survive? How possible was it to realize efficiencies and enhance sales for our partner airlines?

We are in a highly competitive and dynamic environment, being one of hardest hit during the recent unprecedented Covid times. Our GSA business is closely connected to airlines’ operational plans and survival is dependent on how varied GSAs adopt to the changing dynamics on ground and their model, but some will have more challenges getting back to normal.  The efficiency lies in gauging the market reality, a smart model, and client-centric approach of feeling their pain and providing customized solution to bring in profitable opportunities.

Challenging times come with opportunities. Does this hold true for these strange times we are living in? Has this made us redefine our role as a GSA?

Yes, on the business side, these challenges are opportunities to revamp and improve.  Currently with the recovery there are things worth keeping on top of our mind on understanding what the relative risks and challenges are and how well are we prepared to not only adapt but tap any silver lining opportunities.  We had adapted on our path of sustainability, corrections, and our longer-term vision for growth.  We need to be lean, agile, and inclusive with our growing global brand, strong market presence and global shared services to complement a cost-effective structure for consistency and enhanced services, standards, performance delivery and plans at respective ends.

Air travel, however resilient, for the first time in over 110 years since commercial flights began, has been dealt with a double whammy: in 2003, during Sars, travel was not safe, but the economy didn’t go down, during the 2008 financial crash money was scarce but there were no health issues. How long do you think the bounce-back will take?

Predicting the future is always a dangerous game especially considering the vulnerability of our industry and behaviors with respect to these situations that impact travel decisions. There are few fundamental areas that need to be evaluated and monitored on the degree to which the world recovers from such economic, health and humanitarian fallout and the speed at which the corrections take place in varied markets.

In the post-Covid situation towards later 2021, we’re starting to see some light at the end of the tunnel, with the recovery on leisure travel making a comeback and business by varied industry having slower pace at this stage. There are a lot of moving pieces with the impact of ongoing crises like Ukraine-Russia situation, Covid seeing additional cases/Covid variant in many regions etc. Following the global trends, performance indicators, and speaking to colleagues there are expectation of the overall bounce back by 2024, with domestic in some markets much faster even as early as later 2022/early 23 and international by 2023/24. We hope there is stability, and the recovery is faster.

How can we develop our services and keep growing – and going forward – in a post Covid world?

AirlinePros International Shared Service has continued playing a pivotal role of enhancing our functional services and solutions in an economically viable model.  We have highlighted in the last edition on the wider functional areas, enhancements and diversifications of the global shared services to support the global teams.

As part of my dual role of Global Commercial Planning and Shared Services responsibility, one of the fundamental areas is integrating our commercial planning with global strategy and operational efforts that bring strong value to each of the POS Partner and operational team. We would encourage stronger POS team interaction with our Shared Service functional team to support, enhance serving level and timely implementation in the markets.  As a team we will strive together, do help us help you!

Tell us more about your family – do you discuss work with them? Are they as passionate about aviation as you are?

My family has always been an integral and precious part of my journey. We are a small family with my wife Anu and two teenage sons, Aaron and Nathan aged 17 and 12, currently doing their secondary schooling. My wife has been a strong support and is qualified pharmacist. Yes, they are very much passionate about travel but not on the nitty gritty of aviation, and we had some great opportunities being part of airlines with the travel privileges/benefits exploring various global destinations and look forward to continuing the fantastic experiences.

What do you do on weekends? Have you found the time for badminton yet?

Weekends are always looked forward to after a generally hectic regular working week covering multiple time zones of work synergy with our global network.  I do try to make sure I spend quality time with family over the weekend and we try watching movies, outings, shopping and trying new food delicacies etc. I am fond of sports and regularly played badminton during my earlier days but currently it’s becoming very occasional. I hope to pick up the racket more regularly soon.