Normally, when a division goes through three CEOs in the span of two years, it’s a red flag that danger is on the horizon. This was the environment faced by Lynne Embleton in early April, when IAG Group appointed her as the new head of IAG Cargo after she had been the managing director of British Airways at the U.K.’s Gatwick Airport. She stepped in as Drew Crawley left the CEO position after a little more than a year at the helm as a replacement for former long-time CEO Steve Gunning, who left in January 2016.
Embleton, despite her 25-plus years in the airline industry with BA, has had limited experience with cargo, serving on the IAG Cargo board as a non-executive director over a four-year period. She has begun this new role at a generally positive time in the industry, which has seen robust growth in the first half of 2017. But she also takes over a cargo operation in transition, as IAG Cargo seeks to digitize its operations and reach out to more independent freight forwarders.
We caught up with Embleton soon after she settled into the new job to discuss what it’s been like to take charge after the unexpected change, what new policies she plans on enacting and what IAG’s outlook is for the rest of the year and beyond.
The last five months have absolutely zoomed by. I’ve spent a lot of time in learning and listening mode and getting to know the customers and people of IAG. I’m motivated by the business that we’re in and by how dynamic it is, and how worthwhile it is as well. I’m quite encouraged and energized by the global economy and the role that we’re playing, keeping everything buzzing and moving around.
Q: What new strategies, if any, are taking priority?
When Steve Gunning was heading the company, that was a period when we put a lot of investment and focus into premium products, and that’s something I absolutely intend to continue. The premium part of the market has grown faster than general freight over the last decade or so. We were well placed and probably ahead of the game in some of our Constant Climate capability, and our intention is to keep developing those (see photo, at left). We’ve started digging to build more premium with our new facility here in the London hub. We’ll have much more capacity, with a modern warehouse management system and we’ll have the facilities to handle more Constant Climate materials.
Q: What role is technology playing at IAG Cargo?
When Drew [Crawley] came in, he spoke a lot about digitizing a business, and you have to concur that the industry is crying out for modernization. Therefore, the work that we’ve been doing to get properly ready for e-freight – that’s another area where we need to keep going. This is an industry that’s not really embracing digital, so we’re going to need to be working closely with our customers to digitize.
Q: Tell me about the FWD.Rewards program. What has been the response from forwarders?
That was introduced in May. The more [forwarders] spend, the more business points they earn. Then they can use that towards the cargo or rewards that are more targeted to the forwarder, like hotels and the like. So, it really is targeted at the small- or medium-sized forwarders. And take-up has been fantastic – I think around 700 forwarders have signed up already. It’s another step as we go along this journey to be truly customer-centric.
Q: How is IAG’s new low-cost brand, Level, working with your cargo network operations?
We’ve got A330s flying from Barcelona to Los Angeles, Punta Cana and Buenos Aires. We started in June, and from a cargo perspective, we’ve got ourselves in there pretty quick and started putting freight on straight away: 5,000 kilograms of seeds from Barcelona to Punta Cana. We’re still getting to learn about the passenger routes, but what’s really encouraging is that IAG Group will likely be looking at growth for cargo as well.
Q: What have you taken from your Gatwick days that helps you lead the cargo division?
Before [working at] Gatwick, I was strategy director. In that capacity, I was responsible for fleet and global network. We were lobbying for bigger aircraft on the key lanes and lobbying for us to fly to plenty of places that were driving cargo demand, if not passenger demand. So, from that stage, I had some sense of where the cargo demand was sitting and how the flows were playing out. As I moved to Gatwick, where I spent the last two and a half years, that job was like this one – P&L accountability, looking after customers, 24/7 operations – where safety matters, operational performance matters and customer service matters. And I think it’s those aspects that I’m just champing at the bit to get back to.