When one steps into the office that houses Singapore’s most iconic luxury brand, one expects nothing less than plush furnishings and understated elegance to boost the image that people have long associated the brand with. Yet, the sight that greets guests and visitors is a relatively simple one – practical essentials to make work operationally effective.
“You’ll find that the office is very simple. Nothing ostentatious. Nothing too fancy about it. It’s efficiently laid out, with enough space for us to work… People who don’t know SIA would be, maybe surprised by that. But of course, for investors, they are very happy when they see that,” says Mr Goh Choon Phong, Chief Executive Officer of Singapore Airlines (SIA).
Mr Goh joined SIA as a cadet administrative officer in 1990, after graduating from Massachusetts Institute of Technology on an SIA scholarship. Within 10 years of joining the company, he was appointed senior vice-president, a rare occurrence within the organisation. In January 2011, he took over the reins from Mr Chew Choon Seng as its Chief Executive Officer.
In the 23 years that he has been with the carrier, he cites the foray into low-cost carriers (LCCs) as the more prominent and obvious change that SIA has undergone. “SIA has always been associated with the best service, best in-flight entertainment, luxurious fittings and offerings for our customers. It is almost a direct opposite to what LCCs would offer. For us to actually go into LCCs is one of the biggest shifts in the way of our operating philosophy of the past,” he proffers.
In June last year, SIA’s new long-haul budget carrier, Scoot, took to the air. With that, SIA is the “only airline in the world that has all four segments covered”, offering the airline very unique opportunities. “SilkAir covers the short haul, less dense market, while SIA covers the full service medium- and long-haul market. Tiger covers the regional budget market and Scoot has the budget medium- to long-haul market. We call this our portfolio approach, as it gives us exposure to all the key market segments with product offerings that cover the full customer spectrum. Importantly, such a set-up would allow flexibility and nimbleness for each of the four entities to respond to changes in the respective market segments.” Seeing that Scoot’s performance has been “pretty encouraging”, Mr Goh has huge plans for the carrier. From 2015, Scoot will add 20 of the latest Boeing 787s to its fleet to expand its operations.
In recent years, SIA has been facing stiff competition in premium full-service travel from the Middle Eastern airlines, like Emirates and Qatar. When asked about the strengths of these airlines, he replies, “I don’t usually go and talk about the strength of other carriers, I always talk about the strength of SIA.” He breaks into quiet laughter before adding that Middle Eastern airlines, being approximately six hours to Europe, are bestowed with a great geographical position as a hub. Apart from saving significantly on jet fuel due to planes being most fuel efficient when they fly six to eight hours, the short distance between Middle Eastern countries and Europe also allows these airlines to increase the frequency of service which makes them attractive as hubs since customers have many choices on timings.
Competition may be stiff but the airline is poised to maintain its leadership position in the aviation industry. Apart from expanding its network connectivity, SIA will continue to focus on product leadership and delivering impeccable service to customers. “You talk to anyone who’s working here, there’s a lot of pride in the airline, in the company. That pride itself is motivation for us to want to maintain this status and the only way to maintain is to continually innovate and to improve. Otherwise everyone else will be improving and you can’t catch up with them. So there are a lot of innovation activities going on,” he said.
The airline will be focusing on engaging its customers more through delivering targeted and customised services through various touch-points. “We have always faced competition and today we are competing with airlines that have very deep pockets. We will of course continue to enhance our products and our network as they are important pillars of our brand promise, but the world’s best customer service is what truly sets SIA apart. We know that we must continue to focus heavily in this area to ensure we retain our leadership position,” said Mr Goh.
As the pride of Singapore continues to soar in the sky, one is confident that it will remain a great way to fly for many years to come. For Singaporeans in London, hear first-hand from Mr Goh Choon Phong how he manages one of the world’s most admired companies at the Singapore Speaker Series. If you have not registered for the event on 1 November, do so now! In addition, do join the event page on Facebook where we will provide you with updates on the event.
By Yee Wei Zhen