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Leadership Spotlight | Rodger Foster, Chief Executive and Managing Director, Airlink

“Success is being present, relevant and revered. It’s about more than survival.  It’s about providing a safe and dependable haven for the entire ecosystem.” – Rodger Foster

Tell us about your company & your role?

As Southern Africa’s leading airline, Airlink provides comprehensive, safe, reliable and great value air services.  Our purpose is to serve our customers by providing them with unrivalled travel choices.  In doing so, we connect people, facilitate trade, commerce and tourism, which all enables socio-economic growth and development within and beyond the region.

Airlink is independent and privately owned.  Our network of over 60 routes connects 49 destinations throughout South Africa, across the SADC region and into East Africa.  We also provide a vital service linking St Helena island in the mid-Atlantic with the African mainland.  Our fleet of over 60 modern regional jet airliners will have carried almost four million customers on 85,000 flights in our current financial year.

We aspire to be relevant, prominent and to delivering extraordinarily memorable travel experiences, premised on great service – we continuously innovate and refine our service to equal or supersede global best practice.  Our unique value proposition includes convenience and reach.   On the latter, we have established and nurtured collaborative relationships with a number of the world’s best long-haul inter-continental airlines.  These mutually beneficial agreements enable our respective customers to travel between any points on their networks and any points on ours, on a single booking and ticket.  It means we can offer the widest network of destinations and convenient connections to almost every point on the globe that is served with a scheduled airline flight.

My role as the Chief Executive and Managing Director is to provide leadership to my incredible team of subject matter experts, to guide the strategic direction of the company and to provide calm demeanor when confronted by tough challenges.  Ultimately, it is to help Airlink in every way possible to be the best it can be to the benefit of our customers, employees, commercial partners, shareholders and financial stakeholders, whilst propagating the Airlink brand and its currency.

What are your main priorities & goals in your role?

Operationally, our priority is to provide safe and reliable flights that run on-time.

Commercially, we want to continue contributing to the growth of the local and regional travel industry by fostering a customer-centric and partner-inclusive ecosystem.

Airlink pursues responsible profitability that engenders social, economic and environmental sustainability across the entire air transportation and tourism value chain.  We recognise the importance and value of re-investing back into society and the markets we serve and on which our business is built.

The goal is to build a robust business capable of leveraging its financial and human capital strengths to adventure into new horizons sustainably.

How do you define success & what drives you to succeed?

Success is being present, relevant and revered. It’s about more than survival.  It’s about providing a safe and dependable haven for the entire ecosystem.

Despite its challenges, our region holds undeniable potential.  Building a strong airline business that unlocks and fuels those broader opportunities and promotes widespread prosperity is a powerful driver.

How do you keep your team motivated?

By respecting each individual equally, including all in loving the Airlink brand, sharing the mission and vision and strategic direction, setting personal development goals and empowering our people.

What new trends/disruptors are emerging in your industry?

Our weakening currency and high hard currency costs are becoming challenging.  So too is the advent of new technologies as well as increased environmental consciousness and their respective impact on air travel and every aspect relating to it.   It has led to a heightened emphasis on cost reduction while revenue optimisation is required to remain viable.  The airline models are converging on each other and staying in the game requires agility, innovation, and absorption.

What major changes would you like to see in the local business environment?

South Africa needs to be alive to the pace of change throughout the world and we need to remain competitive. Electricity and infrastructure are letting us down. Our policies need to adapt to focus more on economic growth and direct foreign investment.  Education, industrialisation, manufacturing and beneficiation policy should be geared towards rapidly reducing unemployment (which will promote social stability) and ensuring a pipeline of talent fit and equipped for the future.   Market access, connectivity and the necessary hospitality and other infrastructure for business and leisure travel and tourism should be central to economic policy and strategy.  In this respect, the Cape Town Air Access initiative has shown how this can be achieved and the benefits that are possible from such an approach.

Are you finding any skills gaps in the market?

Yes, we’re in another brain drain. Our highly-skilled future leaders are leaving us for greener pastures in other parts of the world, especially Australia, Canada and the Middle East. Whilst this phenomenon is disconcerting, it does create opportunities for youngsters to enter our industry, prove their mettle and contribute to making South Africa a better country.

If you could choose to have dinner with four influential South African business or government leaders, who would you choose?

Patrice Motsepe, Nicky Oppenheimer, Koos Bekker and Johann Rupert.

What’s the best advice you’ve been given or would give, in business?

Nurture and protect your human capital and safeguard the balance sheet. You can run a business at a loss for some time, but you cannot run a business for a day without people and cash.

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