Intervju med Robin Kamark

HSMAI Gazette nr 1 2010
HSMAI Gazette nr 1 2010.

I 2010 og 2012 gjorde min oppdragsgiver, HSMAI Region Europe, et forsøk på å lansere det digitale magasinet HSMAI Gazette, som et enkelt e-magasin.

Selv utgjorde jeg både redaksjon og designavdeling, men må medgi at det ikke gjorde stort for å bidra til magasinets overlevelse.

Her gjengir jeg et intervju jeg gjorde med SAS’ daværende kommersielle direktør, Robin Kamark, i 2010. Et intervju som rimeligvis ble gjennomført på norsk, ettersom Kamark og jeg snakker samme språk, men som jeg renskrev på engelsk.

På forsiden stod det: «WHEN THE GOING GETS TOUGH …».

Da var det bare rett og rimelig at overskriften inni bladet skulle lyde:

The Tough Get Going

You know how it goes: When the going gets tough, the tough get going, which very much applies to the airline industry these days— and indeed to some of its champions.

TXT: JARLE PETTERSON
PIX: SAS GROUP/ANDERS BERGERSEN, BJØRGLI & BERGERSEN

Mr. Robin Kamark, a highly valued and long-time HSMAI member, took up his duties as Chief Commercial Officer in SAS (Scandinavian Airlines System) this winter, after an eleven-year service in numerous leading positions—lately in Sales & Marketing. It should come as no surprise that it’s been a bumpy start, considering the rough patch the industry is currently going through, after the credit crunch, years of cut-backs and, but not least, the recent volcanic incident in Iceland, practically grounding European aviation for weeks.

In spite of it all, Mr. Kamark holds an optimistic view of the industry’s general future—and, of course, that of the SAS in particular. “You might say that it’s been a baptism of fire,” he admits. “We’ve been through some demanding times, requiring a great deal of creativity on everyone’s behalf. The volcanic eruption came amid implementation of new strategies, structural changes and productivity-improving measures, very time-consuming and demanding in itself, both for the individual and for the organisation as such,” Mr. Kamark, who by the way has prior experience in the commercial end of operations, says.

People make the difference

Challenges or not, with eleven years in one airline, you should think that, after all, he enjoys the busy existence—and rightfully so:

“In a company like SAS you’re offered an opportunity to hold a great number of positions, but if you want to go places, career-wise, you really need to go places, in the sense that it requires a great deal of flexibility—and willingness to move around. If you’re prepared to embrace that, there’s a whole world of international opportunities in store, provided you also possess the qualities needed to get the job done.”

“Having said that,” he adds, “Yes! I truly love it here. It’s a melting-pot of different nationalities, bursting with highly competent people in a wide range of professions. You might say that the people factor has played a vital role in my reasons to stay, coupled with the ever-interesting challenges. Despite recent years’ turmoil, or rather because of the turmoil, we’ve been given a chance to determine what we’re made of, as a corporate organism. The answer has been more than amply convincing. There’s much truth to the old saying, you know, that hardship makes the man, and indeed the woman, and I have to say that our hardships have enriched us, made us even stronger. All thanks to the people that make up the sum total of the company.”

Tough conditions

The CCO has been moving around a lot himself, and is currently based in the Stockholm HQ, responsible for commercial functions previously organised in national units. Faced with grave financial challenges some deem the future of the aviation industry highly uncertain. So what is it that renders airlines particularly vulnerable to shifts in the global economy?

According to Kamark the recent credit crunch led to plummeting demands. “The plunging demand took effect globally, hitting an already battered industry hard. With a new fleet in the pipeline, and investments already made, you’re not free to adapt instantly,as may be the case in other lines of business. Even so, when cut-backs are of the essence, one way or the other, they need to be addressed. In this industry flying is survival, meaning that cost-reductions will have to be made elsewhere. Time elapsed from a critical incident occurs until countering measures are made is very short in the airline industry, whereas other lines of business have the luxury of conducting thorough assessments,” Mr. Kamark points out, but hesitates to blame it all on the credit crunch.

“There are other elements, too, with a huge impact on airline conditions, such as unforeseeable tax increase and the unstable oil market. Under such circumstances the short-term answer may be preventing net-expense flights by detaining parts of the fleet. Also, I am sure no-one has failed to notice the stiffened competition over the last decade, with extremely low entry-barriers, leading to an economic abomination: Maintained—or increased, even—supply in times of drastically reduced demand. Now there’s a challenge, if ever I saw one.”

The big turnaround

Over the last couple of years speculations have flourished over a possible SAS merger, but SAS remains SAS. Robin Kamark is reluctant to predict the company’s immediate future, claiming his guess as good as anyone’s.

“The airline consolidation has been building up during these three last years,” he says, “Take KLM and Air France, for instance, or, just recently, British Airways and Iberia. We see the same thing happening in America, and there’s a lot more to come. Whether SAS will be involved in such proceedings or not, very much depends on how well the ongoing changes are carried out. If successfully so, SAS may well turn out to be the stronger party in a constellation. Then, of course, there are the restrictions in ownership, not least in the United States. Either way, processes like that are bound to take time.”

In times of financial unrest it must be tempting to turn to alternative sources of income, compensating for operative losses, but Robin Kamark doesn’t believe in an overly diversified business model, or, as he puts it: “In our line of business we’re dealing with a chain of functions that are tightly interlocked, which need to work in order to provide an end-product to the passengers, including regularity and reliability, both crucial factors for all commercial airlines. Bearing that in mind, I am extremely pleased to establish that we have been chosen Europe’s most punctual airline two years in a row, which is an excellent starting point for further development.”

Flexibility is crucial

We’re anxious to learn what it takes to make it in Kamark’s line of work, and he’s only too happy to comply.

“It can be very demanding. First of all it requires a good portion of flexibility and mobility. By that I mean a willingness to work abroad, if so required, and to rise to the occasion when it presents itself. I would be lying if I claimed that luck had nothing at all to do with it, since, in part, it is also a matter of being in the right place at the right time, but you won’t come far without a foundation of qualifications, an ability to deal with people and make decisions—and stick to them.”

“HSMAI plays a key role in connecting its members across borders, I think, in building networks and introducing people of mutual interest and benefit, merging people who otherwise never would have met. The organisation serves a much needed purpose in passing on competence between railway and aviation, hotels and cruise lines, distributors and the IT companies. But I also hope that HSMAI never turns into a forum for recruitment between businesses, as is often the case in similar organisations.”

HSMAI a strong brand

“With that in mind I am very happy to see HSMAI now setting out to conquer Europe. The HSMAI brand is very strong, especially in the U.S., of course, but also in Norway. In SAS we are extremely pleased to see a Swedish chapter emerge. With patience and determination, quality in content and taking it step by step, I am confident that the expansion into new markets will be a successful one.”

While seeing networking as HSMAI’s chief purpose, Robin Kamark also recognises the need to professionalise the travel and hospitality industry, speaking warmly of education and follow-up studies. “Our counterparts have excelled in skills and competence, too, demanding a higher level of formal qualifications at our side of the table.”

As for his own workplace, Robin Kamark foretells a highly profitable SAS, with a strong brand—and hard times as a distant memory, working with clients through global alliances.

After all, when the going gets tough, clearly, the tough indeed get going.