New Year, New Face

Meet Gerard Clarke, KQ’s new Commercial Director

Gerard-ClarkeQ: What is your back-ground, and why did you accept this new job?
My career in the international airline industry spans more than 25 years and I possess expertise in all major airline business models – premium service and low-fare, network and point-to-point, scheduled and charter. I hold a Bachelor of Arts (Honours) in Spanish and French from University College Dublin (1986) and a Master of Science in Transport Planning and Management, specialising in Airline Economics, from the Polytechnic of Central London (1990). In addition, I attended the University of Caen, France. I have also undergone executive training and development at Ashridge Business School, UK. I am a fellow of the UK’s Institute of Digital and Direct Marketing.

Throughout my career I have been employed by leading aviation and aviation-related businesses, operating from the Arabian Gulf, China, Europe, the United States and West Africa. My previous employers included the trade body International Air Transport Association (IATA), leading Middle Eastern carrier Emirates, US e-commerce pioneer BroadVision, the largest UK general sales agent Aviareps Plc and the largest West African airline, Arik Air. I have helped these and other employers transform their businesses in readiness for growth, improve commercial performance and forge international joint ventures. In performing my various roles I have lived and worked in Barcelona, Damascus, Dubai, Kuwait City, Lagos and London.

Executing and embracing change also presents opportunities, for the company and for individual employees, be these  new market opportunities, new ways of delighting our guests or the creation of new job functions and roles

Early in my career I helped coordinate the production of an IATA study on the economic benefits of air transportation and the need for investment in airport infrastructure. From that, I developed an understanding of how aviation growth helps stimulate economic development in the region(s) it serves, directly and indirectly. I accepted this new job because I wanted to contribute to further development in Africa. I believe my experience in the aviation sector, coupled with performing the Commercial Director role at an airline as established and as successful as Kenya Airways, will enable me to make that contribution.

Q: What are the biggest challenges and opportunities facing the company right now?
The biggest challenge I see is that change is going to be a new constant for all Kenya Airways employees. The change will take the shape of leaner business processes, new and improved systems, even expected new behaviours (competencies). Such changes will be easier for some staff to assimilate than for others. In this context, continuous communication and feedback from managers and supervisors will be important to help their teams navigate. Executing and embracing change also presents opportunities, for the company and for individuals, be these new market opportunities, new ways of delighting our guests or the creation of new job functions and roles.
Q: If you could meet someone living or dead, who would it be?
My Irish heritage allows me to adapt easily wherever I live and work internationally. Maeve Binchy was an Irish novelist known for her humorous take on small-town life in Ireland and also for her interest in human nature and how we adapt and change. Despite their local Irish context, her novels were translated into 37 languages and sold more than 40 million copies worldwide. Another figure I’d like to have met was aviation entrepreneur Sir Freddie Laker, who pioneered the idea of affordable and lean air travel as far back as 1977 with his scheduled Skytrain service between Britain and America.

Through his legacy he continues to inspire aviation entrepreneurs around the world to challenge the status quo, championing the cause of the traveller.

Q: What was the last book you read?
Richard Branson’s Like a Virgin: Secrets They Won’t Teach You at Business School. The book brings together some of Branson’s best advice, distilling the experiences and insights that have made him one of the world’s most recognised and respected business leaders. In hindsight, Branson is thankful he never went to business school. Had he conformed to the conventional dos and don’ts of starting a business, would there be the various Virgin brands we know today? This book explains how he does it.

Q: If we’re sitting here 12 months from now celebrating a great year, what did you achieve?
When members of a team are dispersed across continents, as so many of KQ’s commercial staff are, it can often be a challenge to ensure each person is made to feel that he/she is contributing and adding value to the business in a meaningful way. It will have been a good year if, by the end, the majority of staff recognise that considerable progress was made in how we work as a global team, with improved communication central to this process. I