November 18, 2019
We recently relaunched our direct service to the vibrant city of Mumbai after a four-year hiatus, and I was delighted to join our cabin crew and pilots on the inaugural flight.
Welcoming us on the ground was our commercial manager for India, Dave Hodges, who has now moved back to the UK after spending two years in the role. As we’re about to find out, it’s a varied and interesting position that comes with more than its fair share of highs as well as the occasional challenge.
I joined Dave at the Mirchi and Mime restaurant in Powai. The venue provides employment for Mumbai’s deaf and speech-impaired residents who would otherwise find it hard to secure a job. Once we’d ordered our food in sign language (using the handy guide on the menu) it was time to chat. I was keen to find out how Dave’s working life had changed since he swapped our sunny HQ in West Sussex for the fascinating, complex and beguiling country that is India.
Tell us how you got to be our man in India?
I’ve always been interested in politics and after university I worked as a parliamentary researcher for a Labour MP. It was a fascinating time but when a job came up in the Government Affairs department at Virgin Atlantic I thought it would be a great opportunity to combine my love of politics and travel.
After a few wonderful years in that role it was time to start looking for a new challenge, which materialised when I got chatting to the team who ran our ‘rest of world operation’ at our international sales conference. They were looking for country managers, so I had an interview for a job in Hong Kong. I didn’t get that but six months later I got a call asking would I like to go to Dubai or Delhi. It turned out to be India. In between, there was a whirlwind training course where I spent time in many different departments at the airline.
What does the role of commercial manager for India consist of?
I’m responsible for the commercial performance of Virgin Atlantic in India leading a team of 30. I work with the travel trade to maximise our performance and work closely with our commercial teams in the UK to adjust inventory and pricing where necessary. It’s a complex market so we all work together to make sure we’re competitive but profitable.
I’m also the face of Virgin Atlantic in India so I handle any media requests and work closely with our airport operation, cargo team and local cabin crew with any issues they may have.
What have been the highlights of your time in India?
I’ve been lucky to work with the best team who are so generous. As someone new to the country they’ve been very patient and supportive. It’s a nice atmosphere here; everyone gets on, and that’s really important. India is also an incredible country and the opportunity to travel all over it has been truly special. As for the food, it’s simply stunning. It’ll be hard going back to eating high street curries in the UK!
What advice do you have for whoever is taking over from you?
Take a deep breath and really enjoy the experience of living in India. I’ve grown personally in my time here. You’re a long way from head office and you have a lot of responsibility. Always appreciate that the people who work in your team will know more about the markets than you do. Listen and learn. Most of all, take India in. Travel. Eat the food, visit all the nooks and crannies.
What has been your greatest achievement in India?
Our first flight back to Mumbai was a proud moment. Making it happen took great energy and effort by my team over the last two years, working super hard to turn Delhi into a successful route so the business had the confidence to expand in India. In this market you are always conscious that people’s futures are dependent on our achievements. We have to give it everything and then I know I can look everyone in the eye and say we’re done everything we can to make a success of India – which they have in abundance!
And what have been your biggest challenges during your time here?
To quote Macmillan: ‘Events, dear boy!’ The last year has been pretty hectic. We had to deal with the closure of Pakistani airspace for several months. That substantially increased our flight times to London. Then Jet Airways went out of business, affecting thousands of our customers booked on their codeshare.
We also had a swap of aircraft to the larger Airbus A340-600 which affected the dynamics of the London-Delhi route. Suddenly we had more seats to sell to make a profit. Finally, we had the Mumbai launch which happened at short notice; just five months from the initial decision to the first flight.
What’s next for you?
My new role is head of Latin America and new route implementation. On a day to day basis I’ll be looking after Brazil and the Caribbean, as well as any new startups we have. I’m really excited about flying to Sao Paulo from the end of March next year. Brazil is a new market for us and comes with its own set of challenges. It’s one of the few places on Earth where Virgin Atlantic is not very well known so I’m looking forward to painting Brazil red.