Celebrating a quarter of ‘Jet’ting

Many factors fuelled Jet Airways’ flight to success, not the least the man at the controls — Naresh Goyal

It is a feat to be proud of — celebrating 25 years in the turbulent aviation market in India, being witness to the skies opening up to private players in 1993 and then facing the competition, and achieving the tight financial management that recent years demanded.

This is what Jet Airways achieved earlier this month when it completed 25 years of flying in Indian and international skies.

In one sense, Jet’s achievement is even more laudable as the airline has had the dubious distinction of being embroiled in controversies ever since it started operations in India in 1993, with four aircraft flying to six destinations.

Jet started operations with other airlines like Damania and Sahara when the Indian government opened up the skies to private players and at that time Jet was probably the only one about which questions were raised regarding its source of funding. They were raised again when it decided to acquire Air Sahara in 2007 which many believed then, and many believe now, was one of the biggest mistakes that the airline made. Time passed, these controversies died down, only to be replaced by newer ones.

Questions about security concerns following Jet Airways starting operations to the US were raised in early 2000. A few years later, when Jet sold a stake to Etihad in 2013, voices raising concerns about whether it was in violation of the effective control and substantial ownership clause for an Indian airline, when it sold a stake to the Gulf-based airline, were loud.

 

 

The man behind the mission

But one man — founder and owner Naresh Goyal — carried on despite being at the centre of all these controversies.

Twenty-five years later, in many ways, the story of Jet is the story of Goyal as a person. Talk to people across the board and they all tell you about his clarity of thought and emphasis on detail. It is difficult to find even one person who has anything remotely negative about this former General Sales Agent who went on to set up Jet Airways.

Dinesh Keskar, Senior Vice-President, Asia Pacific and India Sales, Boeing Commercial Airplanes, who has dealt with Jet Airways since the time before its first flight took off, recalls that when liberalisation started in 1991, several airlines and people came to him to discuss the possibility of starting an airline. These included Naresh Goyal.

“Naresh was very well-prepared with the business plan, data and other things. While everyone started with the Boeing 737-200, he had the vision to start with the Boeing 737 NG,” recalls Keskar. “This aircraft had new engines, bigger cabins and more seats and the airline started by leasing three aircraft from Ansett Worldwide. This was a risk then as the rent was higher, which meant that the airline had to ensure that it got more revenue.”

According to Keskar, Goyal foresaw the advantages of this aircraft because he had been on the IATA board of governors, knew many airline CEOs and knew where the industry was going. Keskar also believes that being on the IATA board of governors shows that the global industry respects Goyal.

Others give examples of Goyal’s foresight. According to Suresh Nair, then General Manager, North India, Nepal and Pakistan, who joined Jet in 1996, “Goyal just wanted Jet Airways to be the Singapore Airlines in India and never compromised on the product and customer service.”

A senior diplomat recalls a time when the then Singapore Prime Minister was travelling on a Jet Airways flight from Mumbai to Delhi. “Goyal ensured that the day’s copy of a Singapore newspaper was placed on his seat. This was not a small feat given these was early days of liberalisation. So impressed was the Prime Minister that he called Singapore Airline’s CEO and warned him that his airline now faced stiff competition.”

The Goyal touch

Many credit Goyal’s focus on detail for Jet being able to withstand many of the controversies that the airline has faced. A person who worked with Goyal says that he does not sign anything even if it is something as comparatively insignificant as a marketing agreement before he has been given a nod by a Parsi lawyer group which has been associated with the company for a long time.

Narayan Hariharan, who calls himself a three-timer in Jet Airways as he served thrice in the airline, including being Senior Vice-President with the Chairman’s office during 2006-09, says that Goyal has a brilliant mind and a fantastic memory. “He does not carry a planner or a diary like others. Everything is in his mind. He has this great ability to process data,” he adds. Others maintain that one thing that has been constant in Jet’s history has been Goyal’s ability to work the establishment. This is something that he believes in and follows. For him it is not so much who is in power is more or as important as who was in power and who is likely to come to power which has helped him and that is why every controversy about the airline has died a quick death.

 

 

 

Published on May 15, 2018
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