is a high, stark white wall Ashwin Bhat faces from his
desk as Head of Cargo for SWISS International Airlines
in Zurich, Switzerland.
Just over his shoulder, a floor-to-ceiling
window reveals the outside neighborhood and the ensuing
But the white wall offered
Ashwin a unique opportunity to forge a personal window
on the world, so he took it.
He placed a giant and colorful
map of the world on his white wall, which may not be
so unique, as business offices go.
Lots of people with the kind
of global responsibility that Ashwin shoulders include
a map of the world in their office scheme.
“I always like to loosen
up the conversation by saying something like:
‘Let’s take a picture
in front of your territory,’ and it usually works,”
Ashwin also collects artifacts
from his travels for Swiss WorldCargo; right now the
collection is rather amazing and tells its own story
of the growth, development, and keen understanding of
an air cargo executive who climbed the ranks and appears
to have no fear about succeeding a widely popular Oliver
Ashwin Bhat has a plan, his
eyes are on the prize, and every time he is in his office
we imagine he is thinking about new worlds to conquer.
Up Against The Wall at
headquarters Ashwin Bhat is flanked by members of
his executive team. To his right is Alain Guerin,
Head of Cargo Marketing and to his left is Urs Stulz,
Head of Central Services Cargo.
Year That Was
“Our corporate results
were excellent for 2015—record breaking, really.
As an airline we had the third best report in history
and for that we have to thank all our customers both
passengers and cargo.
“On the cargo side, the
numbers were not so good with some reasons.
“Firstly, our business
was impacted by two external factors in 2015.
“The decision of the
Swiss national bank to peg the Swiss Franc to the Euro
meant that when the Euro collapsed from 120 to 101 we
were stuck flying with our usual high load factors;
we could not compensate selling one Euro and getting
one Swiss franc in return where previously we were selling
one Euro and getting 120 Swiss Francs in return.
“In other words, in 2015
the money conversion alone—where close to 80 percent
of Swiss WorldCargo revenue is in foreign currency—accounted
for about 50 percent of our decline during the year.
“The other factor that
impacted 2015 was the artificial first quarter uptick
everyone experienced due to that U.S. West Coast dock
strike, which drove unnaturally high numbers our way.
“Unfortunately, for the
remainder of 2015 business trended downward, with everything
from yield to surcharges under tremendous pressure.
“So our results for 2015
did pale as compared to 2014, a year that was one of
our best cargo performances ever.”
“Now we are advancing
our plan and look ahead to our offering for 2016.
“I can say if somebody
out there can forecast this year, lots of luck; what
I can see this year will also be a challenge.
“My take is that there
is a new normal taking hold that we all have to deal
with, and we have some exciting additions to our offering
as well as upgrades.”
As he speaks, Ashwin takes
a long, deep draft from his cup. On it are some words
to be remembered when speaking to Ashwin: “Attitude
Ashwin Bhat smiles and says,
“We work at every point to stay close to our customers
and let them now that we never forget how important
“The world is changing.
“Right now in technology
we are on the second half of the chessboard, where the
growth is exponential and where what we knew was happening
during the last five years is changing rapidly to something
completely different ahead.
“So in such a grey rather
than black and white world business situation, especially
in air cargo, we need to have a positive attitude with
the drive and will to succeed.
“Swiss WorldCargo is
confident of who and what we are and that is exactly
what made our cargo business successful in the first
“The second factor for
us is that we are fielding an excellent team worldwide.
“The name of the game
is collaboration—not confrontation.
“Our customers know that
they can expect Swiss WorldCargo to lead the way in
product offering and value for money.
“All of the above and
more come out in the exciting plans we have for the
future,” Ashwin Bhat said.
To The Future
“Put simply, we are evolving
as should be and working to be even more focused than
ever before on developing and deepening our resolve
to work into our strengths.
“It’s all about
value, plain and simple.”
“For example, Swiss has
an image in the marketplace of being a high-priced resource.
“While it is true that
we are very high quality and we take immense pride in
our product offering, and our services are priced accordingly,
at the same time we are not unmindful of market conditions.
“We sell air cargo and
are in a world market that is operating under certain
limitations, which Swiss WorldCargo both understands
and competes with.
“Our offerings, products,
and services are not only superior, they are also competitive.
“In other words, people
that do not approach Swiss, thinking that we might say
‘no,’ will be surprised to discover that
we want their business and are willing to talk about
As Head of Cargo, Ashwin Bhat
is a member of the Board of SWISS International Airlines.
“When it comes to running
the airline, cargo has a seat at the decision-making
table for the entire enterprise,” Ashwin Bhat
Little wonder that today air
cargo accounts for about 16 percent of the total throughput
of the airline.
As B777s Add Services
“Swiss adds new B777-300ER
services into Los Angeles in May 2016, offering 25 tons
“We have always flown
with a high load factor (80 percent); even in a down
market there is demand for our services,”Ashwin
Swiss deployed its first Boeing
777 on regular long haul flights from Zurich to New
York JFK from February 21 four times weekly, then switched
to daily Montréal services on March 27.
In mid-April, the B777s will
add Hong Kong services, a route well suited for the
aircraft, followed by Los Angeles (June), Bangkok (July),
and then San Francisco and Sao Paulo.
Experience So Far
As the conversation wound
down, Ashwin Bhat made the point that while remaining
vigilant and ready for every opportunity, the work has
also been a bit of an internal consolidation exercise.
“Much of my work has
been with the team, working alongside my people, developing
ideas and strategies.
“I like to be outside
my office working alongside and amongst the people here
“You learn about things
in the day-to-day closeness of working together.
“Collaboration is fine,
but we need to virtually integrate our systems to create
a seamless experience for our customers.
“I think there is much
to be considered from the start-ups of today and especially
from the culture of bringing change faster.
“A good idea in 2016
that takes until 2018 to implement is no longer acceptable
in a world where changes are often put into force overnight,”
Against The Wall
“Sitting in my office
at my desk one day looking at the blank white wall that
lines one side of this room, I thought a bit about the
canvas I have been given, leading the cargo fortunes
of a great and storied international airline.
“Of course, as we all
know, air cargo is about people, so I thought this wall
should represent the world we serve to bring a sense
of the global village into our headquarters.
“For example, the blue
bowl on the wall with the image of fishes inside is
from Hong Kong, and it says that everything you want
in life should be yours in abundance and should overflow
“The horses pictured
here were sent from our station in Singapore: ‘Let
your hopes and dreams have the speed and strength of
“The Spear from Kenya
symbolizes determination and resistance that the native
tribes employed to end the colonial era there.”
“A small U.S. Presidential
Seal on the wall sent from (where else?) Washington,
D.C., proclaims that this is the enclave of ‘the
commander in chief,’” Ashwin laughs.