Air India’s first chief operating officer, Gustav Baldauf, has had his hands full from the time he joined the company on June 1.
Baldauf was appointed amid opposition from certain sections of Air India employees, who questioned the need to bring in an expat at an “exorbitant” salary to manage the national carrier.
He has started the Herculean task of giving the white elephant a direction. In a few days Air India will spell out its mission statement, the implementation of which will set the ball rolling in reducing the Rs 8,000 crore debt the airline is sitting on.
In a chat with DNA in Berlin on Tuesday, Baldauf said the reason why he took up the job is because of the potential he saw. “But what we need to do is realign the company, give Air India a new vision and when we come out with our vision everybody including the government will be happy. We need to make India strong and be a strong player in the domestic market,” Baldauf said. Excerpts from the interview:
Air India is unable to leverage India’s economic growth. How do you plan to do that?
You cannot change things in a few days, what you need first is to have a plan in place, which will take care of the financial and operational parts. My part will be to deal with the operational side — to step up the company efficiently and quickly. My quick message is that the market is growing so we also have to grow faster in both the domestic and international segments.
Will your experience of working with Jet Airways help solve the problems?
Because I worked with Jet it does not make me feel that I am new to this country and people. Yes, the two companies are very different, which is bit of a bother, but the basics remain the same. I am coming back to known faces.
What are key issues you will be addressing on the operational side?
It will follow our vision, which is to be the ambassador to the world and be a strong domestic player. This calls for some changes in the domestic operations; as for the international operations, it would mean exploring new routes and in doing so we need to make money too. Right now we have moving targets and I think the employees need to know what they are working towards, which needs a lot of streamlining.
Earlier you were working with an entrepreneur who took quick decisions, now you will be dealing with the government where the decision-making process is very slow. How do you plan to deal with this?
The government has made it clear that it wants to make a change. The government also allowed independent members to come on board. The Air India stakeholders will tell the board what they think of the decision. The board, in turn, will tell the executives what needs to be done. So I think it will be a quick process and the government also wants the best for the airline. If we put the system in place the government will also have confidence in the airline.
What according to you is fundamentally wrong with Air India?
It would be lack of a vision. Right now nobody knows which direction we are headed in and that needs to be crystallised. There is a lot of potential that needs to be leveraged; we need to give clear targets now and am confident that the company will change for the good.
In Jet, the trick was to be adaptable — when the market wanted a low-cost carrier it got one. But in case of Air India that sort of adaptability is lacking- what is the way forward then?
The speed with which things happened in Jet is very different from how things work here but what is important in the end is the outcome. If we bring out good quality in reasonable time, I’ll be happy. And the speed part of execution is what I have factored in my mission plan as well.