You have remained with the same company over the course of a very successful career - what factors drove that decision?
I attribute that to the culture, which is very important when you join a company starting out in your career. Ideally, you want to join a company that’s growing in an industry that’s growing.
It is hard to progress in a business that’s not growing, because it is either shrinking or fighting just to stand still, therefore opportunities for employees are limited.
If you were working for Kodak 25 years ago, for example, you thought you were minted. If you were in Apple, you weren’t sure about the future.
However, if you look now at two people of equal competence working for each of those companies at that time, one is now probably a millionaire whereas the other is in bankruptcy.
Working for a growing company in a growing industry gives you so much more opportunity, but it is also vital that the culture of the company is one that rewards success. We try to ensure AerCap is a meritocracy right the way through the organisation. Everybody has to be going in the same direction from the Board of directors down.
It is vital that everyone in the company knows exactly what the objectives are, why we are here, how we’re going to go about achieving our targets and how we execute our strategy every day.
Everyone has to be on board with that. In a meritocracy, you also have to make sure that everyone who works very hard and contributes is rewarded. That’s crucial.
What was your experience taking over the running of a big global company at such a young age?
A strong support structure is crucial for any CEO. You need a team around you, who you know you can rely on – who are excellent.
Everyone must be pulling in the same direction, without any politics, whereby everyone knows “this is where we’ve got to get to and, if we get there, we will all do well together.” That is vital
You’ve also got to have a Board around you that is extremely supportive of that culture of getting things done, whereby there is no ambiguity at any level of the company about what we’re doing and why we’re here and the direction in which we are going.
Yours is a highly globalised business - what does your average week look like?
Spending your time appropriately is crucial. You could be on the road travelling all the time, but that can be very inefficient and ineffective.
You have got to make sure that when you travel it counts and that it’s worthwhile. If you’re not in the office with the team as often as you can be, you’re not as in-tune with what’s happening within the organisation.
Success is not about jetting around the world or grand strategic visions. It’s about making sure that, every day, the whole company is pulling in the same direction and is always focused on execution. It’s a capital intensive business. We spend US$100 million every week to finance new aircraft deliveries which ultimately need to be placed across our global network of airline customers.
Yesterday, we met with the CEO of the second biggest bank in the world. In fact we have over 100 global banking relationships. Today, we’ll meet with the CEO of Boeing, of which we’re a Top 5 customer. These relationships, together with the relationship we have with our airline customers, are key to our business success.
Meetings can be a tremendous waste of time. They don’t get things done. Strategy normally means spending a lot of money now and getting nothing later on. Instead, you need to be focused on the here and now. Results matter, so execution is crucial.
What has your experience been like working across different cultures worldwide?
When you operate in almost 80 countries around the world, there are different cultures. There is no question about that, but you also need to realise that, ultimately, everybody is trying their best, to do what they can for their own company.
Yes, there are different ways to approach people and engage, but the ultimate objective is nearly always the same. They want to try to make a return for their shareholders.
How you approach each interaction may differ, and you must be respectful of different traditions and ways of doing things around the world, but ultimately everyone has the same goal, getting the best outcome for their own company.
How has the aviation leasing sector evolved globally in the years since you started your career?
The industry we operate in has become more mainstream over the years. If you go back 20 years to when I started in the business, aircraft leasing was a niche industry and air travel itself was a growing business. A lot of people didn’t travel. Most people around the world had never been on an airplane. That was the reality, so air travel was really just confined to Western Europe, North America and a smattering of airlines elsewhere. Now, 100 million people a year are taking a flight for the first time. We are part of that.
The growth of emerging markets has transformed enormously the size of the industry, which has brought aircraft leasing into the mainstream. We expect to spend US$11 billion on new aircraft in the next two years alone. That’s reflective of the size and scale of the industry we operate in. As the global economy has changed, opportunities have emerged and the business has scaled enormously.
What is the future now for AerCap?
We are number one aircraft leasing company in the world, so now it’s about staying there. Number one doesn’t mean being the biggest, it means being the best in the world at what you do.
We need to make sure we continue to be the best at what we do, that we don’t become complacent and we keep pushing forward. To do that, you need to make sure that everyone in the company is behind that objective.