Piloting African archipelago airline to its next level

Wild Geese: Roy Kinnear, chief executive of Air Seychelles

Roy Kinnear: ‘It truly is paradise so I’m lucky to be working here even if that is on a 24/7 basis right now”

Roy Kinnear: ‘It truly is paradise so I’m lucky to be working here even if that is on a 24/7 basis right now”

 

The first time Roy Kinnear visited the Seychelles was when he flew there to attend interviews for the role of chief executive with the national airline. The second was when he started the job.

Since joining Air Seychelles in early July, Mr Kinnear, who comes from Lurgan in Co Armagh, has not had much time to get to explore Africa’s smallest country, but he’s certainly getting up to speed on what makes the airline work.

“I’m absolutely breathless right now because I’ve not had a free minute since I got here. When you’re lucky enough to get into the position of being a chief executive of an airline, or of any major company, you spend the first few weeks getting to observe how the business operates and getting out into the local community and meeting players. So I’ve been doing a lot of that.

“As a result I’ve had no leisure time but obviously that will come and I’ll be able to get out and about a bit more,” he said.

Mr Kinnear might not know all there is to know about the Seychelles as yet but he has plenty of knowledge of the aviation industry, having worked in the sector for most of his life.

As he’s the first to admit, Co Armagh isn’t particularly known as an aviation hub, so how exactly did he get from there to becoming the top man at an airline based in an archipelago in the Indian Ocean?

“I left the University of Ulster after graduating with a degree in economics and statistics in the mid-1980s and set about finding a job.

“I eventually found one with British Midland working for them as a reservations and ticketing agent in the East Midlands and that was the start of my career in the sector.

Outstanding for training

“Over the years I ended up spending more time focusing on areas such as pricing, inventory control, network scheduling and so on and ended up staying with the airline in a number of roles for 16 years,” said Mr Kinnear, whose last role with BMI was as general manager of revenue optimisation.

“When I look back it was an outstanding company for offering training and I was lucky enough to get the opportunity every three years or so to either have something added to my portfolio or to take a step up a rung on the ladder so things never got stagnant,” he added.

While loving working in the sector, Mr Kinnear eventually felt he was going to have to change career paths if he was to continue to climb the corporate ladder.

“I had actually taken the decision to leave the sector because I’d reached the general manager level at British Midland and there was a bottleneck in terms of progress. I’d decided to exit the industry and move into the hotel sector and was actually serving my notice period when word reached me of an opportunity in Bahrain with Gulf Air. I found myself torn but ultimately decided to stay in aviation and move overseas,” he said.

Mr Kinnear was in Bahrain with Gulf Air for four and a half years, where he served as head of network revenue management from 2002 to 2006.

Heading east

Next stop was Etihad Airways, with Mr Kinnear moving to Abu Dhabi to be vice-president of revenue management at what was then still a relatively small airline.

“The opportunity came to join Etihad while it was still in its infancy – they were probably two to three years developed at that stage so absolutely nowhere near the size they are now. In fact, if my memory serves me right, total company revenue back then was about the same as what is earned in the cargo division alone now.

“One of the key reasons for joining them was you could see the vision and ambition they had, so that was a big enticement to join the company,” he said.

In 2010 Mr Kinnear was appointed senior vice-president (SVP) of cargo with the airline and a year later became SVP of revenue management and planning. Around the same time, he also became a board member and chairman of Amadeus Gulf and Armaguard, both joint ventures of Etihad.

Air Seychelles, which was established in 1978, is 40 per cent owned by Etihad. In his new role, Mr Kinnear is charged with growing revenue for the airline, which recorded turnover of $106.9 million (€98.3m) last year.

“It truly is paradise so I think I’m lucky to be working here even if that is on a 24/7 basis right now. It’s also a new challenge stepping up to become a chief executive because you have to think of so many aspects of the business – from operational performance to finance – and you’ve a board and stakeholders so you need to take their views on board.

“You’re also responsible ultimately for the livelihoods of all your employees, so the focus is on trying, in the Seychelles, to grow inbound tourism and I’m optimistic. It’s hard work but I thrive on that and am really enjoying what I’m doing,” he said.

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