Q&A: Richard Bodin takes low cost airline, fastjet on a pan-African quest
Richard Bodin is Chief Commercial Officer (CCO) at low-cost pan-African airline, fastjet. Born in Exeter in the UK, Bodin assumed his current role when the airline launched operations domestically in Tanzania in November 2012, and has helped grow the fastjet to where it is today.
African Business Review (ABR): Where were you educated and what is your career background up to your current position?
Richard Bodin (RB): I was schooled in the UK but my 10 years working overseas was my real education – understanding how business works, the importance of cultural influence on performance and what success really looks like.
I also completed a full time MBA in a top UK business school. This proved to be an exhilarating experience, one that allowed me to springboard into the aviation world.
After working for a major Tour Operator in various destinations across the world (Barbados, Bulgaria, Spain, France, Malta etc.) and after completing my MBA, I was lucky enough to join easyJet at the very beginning. This start up airline was at the very front of the Low Cost Carrier revolution in Europe and my role, in charge of procurement, allowed me un-paralled access to all areas of the business. This proved to be an excellent grounding.
Since easyJet I have been involved in another airline start up (Jet2.com), launched and run a few UK based Tour Operators and On Line Travel Agents.
I started exploring the possibilities surrounding the launch of fastjet in 2011.
ABR: Who in your career has been your biggest influence?
RB: I have been lucky enough to work for some excellent people; some who have taken the time to mentor me which helped me develop but in fairness, it’s probably my family that has given me the license and freedom to explore new boundaries and pursuits.
ABR: What does success mean to you?
RB: The safety and security of my family, a satisfying role and people benefiting from my labours.
ABR: What motivates you?
RB: I enjoy a broad role that allows inputs from all directions. As CCO at fastjet I get involved in a variety of activities - a working day can see me signing off the next marketing campaign, discussing network development strategies, liaising with staff about a variety of things or meeting investors - or none of the above!
The diversity of my role, along with working with some of the brightest people in the business, really motivates me. I also never tire of the travel industry.
RB: Yes, they really are that good!
ABR: fastjet’s arrival in Africa has been successful so far, but what do you think have been the main ingredients for that success?
RB: I think there are three key elements:
fastjet fly to European standards of safety, reliability and on time performance. Operating modern Airbus jets (A319s) to high standards we [fastjet] have fundamentally improved the standards of air travel in East and to Southern Africa.
fastjet offer market stimulating fares (as low as $20 plus tax) to offer a real alternative to other modes of transport such as buses etc. We know that a huge amount of our domestic passengers are new to aviation (38 percent) – it’s our low fares that have given them the opportunity to fly.
We love our passengers! We give our customers un-equaled access to us via Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and various blogs and forums. This gives us amazing feedback on our service and allows us to take the opinions of our customers into consideration when launching new routes and services.
ABR: What is the best piece advice you would give a nervous, first-time flyer?
RB: It’s hundreds of times safer to fly than cross the road!
ABR: What was the worst business advice you ever received?
RB: I have been to many conferences and meetings where so called experts took pleasure in telling me that the low cost airline model won’t work in their particular region. I think it’s fair to say that they have been proved wrong in all corners of the world and now the revolution is coming to Africa with fastjet.
Africans do recognise the value of safety, do have an appetite to travel, will book early if they trust the brand, will turn up on time and will seek out the best value suppliers!
ABR: What do you do in your free time?
RB: Because I travel so much, I really value the time with my family. However a few hours spent on my motorcycle really clears the mind and brings me great enjoyment.
ABR: What are your hopes and aspirations for fastjet’s pan-African quest?
RB: I was fortunate enough to meet President Mills of Ghana and share with him our plans for fastjet. He declared that if we were successful we would democratise air travel across Africa. I can’t think of a better goal for us to aim for.