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.
5 minutes with... Janthana Kaenprakhamroy, CEO, Tapoly
Founder and CEO of award-winning insurtech firm Tapoly, Janthana Kaenprakhamroy heads up Europe’s first on-demand insurance platform for the gig economy, winning industry awards, innovating in the digital insurance space, and leading with inclusivity.
Here, Business Chief talks to Janthana about her leadership style and skills.
What do you do, in a nutshell?
I’m founder and CEO of Tapoly, a digital MGA providing a full stack of commercial lines insurance specifically for SMEs and freelancers, as well as a SaaS solution to connect insurers with their distribution partners. We build bespoke, end-to-end platforms encompassing the whole customer journey, but can also integrate our APIs within existing systems. We were proud to win Insurance Provider of the Year at the British Small Business Awards 2018 and receive silver in the Insurtech category at the Efma & Accenture Innovation in Insurance Awards 2019.
How would you describe your leadership style?
I try to be as inclusive a leader as possible. I’m committed to creating space for everyone to shine. Many of the roles at Tapoly are performed by women and I speak at industry events to encourage more people to get involved in insurance/insurtech. Similarly, I always try to maintain a growth mindset. I think it’s important to retain values to support learning and development, like reliability, working hard and punctuality.
What’s the best leadership advice you’ve received?
Build your network and seek advice. As a leader, you need smart people around you to help you grow your business. It’s not about personally being the best, but being able to find resources and get help where needed.
How do you see leadership changing in a COVID world?
I think the pandemic has proven the importance of inclusive leadership so that everyone feels supported and valued. It’s also shown the importance of being flexible as a leader. We’ve had to remain adaptable to continue delivering high levels of customer service. This flexibility has also been important when supporting employees as everyone has had individual pressures to deal with during this time. Leaders should continue to embed this flexibility within their organisations moving forward.
They say ‘from every crisis comes opportunity’, what opportunities do you see?
The past year has been challenging, but it has also proven the importance of digital transformation in insurance. When working from home was required, it was much harder for insurers to adjust who had not embedded technology within their operating processes because they did not have data stored in the cloud and it caused communication delays with concerned customers at a time when this communication should have been a priority, which ultimately impacts the level of customer satisfaction. This demonstrates the importance of what we are trying to achieve at Tapoly in driving digitalisation in insurance and making communication between insurers and distribution partners seamless.
What advice would you give to your younger self just starting out in the industry?
Start sooner, don’t be afraid to take (calculated) risks and make sure you raise enough money to get you through the initial seed stage.