Ajay Singh of SpiceJet on turnaround, cultural change and leadership #SimpliLive

Ever heard your name being mentioned by the President of the United States during a press conference? Not to mention, by President Trump and his VP, Mike Pence? This could sound slightly worrying for most. But for Ajay Singh, it was just the opposite.

The Prime Minister of India, Narendra Modi, made an example of SpiceJet and how its growth will contribute to the US economy. He pointed out to President Trump, how SpiceJet recently placed a massive order of nearly 200 aircraft worth nearly USD 22 billion, which is expected to generate 135,000 high-paying jobs in the United States.

The story of SpiceJet is powerful. Just 3 years ago, on December 16, 2014, SpiceJet announced that they were not going to fly the following day and employees should stay home. This is when Ajay took over and started the airline turn around, which in 2017 has been the best performing airline stock in the world! SpiceJet is a low-cost carrier and the third largest airline in India and a former SimpliFlying Client.

At the Aviation Festival in London, I had the pleasure of interviewing Ajay and dig a bit deeper into the amazing and unprecedented turnaround story of SpiceJet. Ajay shares fascinating insights from when he first took over the airline, what challenges they faced, how they turned every stone to increase revenue and reduce costs, as well how he managed to change the culture of the company through his empowering leadership. In fact, I had done a SimpliLive episode specifically on the turnaround strategies of SpiceJet.

He also shares his knowledge about the present and future of the Indian aviation sector and of course, SpiceJet. The interview ends with Ajay’s personal insights and career advice that you would not want to miss.

In this Episode you will learn:

  1. The inspiring story of what happened when SpiceJet basically declared bankruptcy in December 2014 [2:21]
  2. The culture of SpiceJet [6:03 + 9:38]
  3. What SpiceJet specifically did to reduce costs [8:27]
  4. Valuable insights about the present and future of the Indian aviation sector [12:17 + 16:18]
  5. The importance of the Q400 for SpiceJet [14:32]
  6. Which new routes SpiceJet are launching [15:14]
  7. About Ajay’s rather amusing cricket experiences [17:14]
  8. How Ajay feels about failure and taking risks [18:11]
  9. And much more…

Ajay Singh from Spicejet, in his own words

Ajay Singh on the SpiceJet brand

“It doesn’t take money to be nice.”

Ajay Singh on cutting costs at SpiceJet

“You have to look at every single cost, and see, what it is, you are not doing right.” “Question all assumptions.”

Ajay Singh on the Indian Aviation market:

“The market is really large. We have 33 million people flying today, which is less than 3% of our population”

“As our economy grows 7-8% for the next 10 years conceivably, this market will explode”.

“…in India we have 400 airports. Of the 400 airports, we are only using 75 airports at this time” “…there are potentially another 325 airports which are in some shape or form useable…”

Ajay Singh on the Q400

“We have 20 Q400’s already in the fleet, and we have placed an order for 25 firm and 25 options, so 50 more Q400’s. It’s the largest order Bombardier has received!”

”… We need to connect the small towns of India, and the Q400 is a nice aircraft to do it with. We have experience with it, it is a quiet aircraft and a fast aircraft and it can land in the smaller airports, so we are happy with it”

Ajay Singh on failure

“I have had as many failures as anybody else”

Ajay Singh on taking away the stigma of failure within the SpiceJet Culture

…encourage people to take risks”

“We need to keep thinking out the box”

“In a young country, risk taking will lead to success”

Ajay Singh on giving advice

“Do what you really enjoy doing, because you will do well, if work is a pleasure and joyful” 

Here is the full interview with Ajay Singh from SpiceJet

Excerpts from the interview…

Shashank: I really enjoyed the early years of SpiceJet, it was very lively and cheerful. How has the brand evolved?

Ajay Singh: This is a young country with 65% of the population under 20 of age, so we build an airline for the young people. And when you came on board, it was important to feel that we had a vibrant, energetic, friendly and welcoming brand. We hope we have kept that same spirit going.

Shashank: How is SpiceJet a personal airline?

Ajay Singh: We counsel our staff to be nice. It doesn’t take money to be nice. If you are just friendly, nice and empathetic that creates a different vibe. It is an attitude and a state of mind. If the crew are happy, they will behave in a certain manner. You have to make them proud of what they do. When I took over the airline in 2014, there was huge demoralization, but now, with the success of SpiceJet and having been spoken of in Indian and International media, it makes people feel incredibly proud being part of a story which is truly historic, and that is reflected in their behavior.

Shashank: What are the little things you did to turn SpiceJet around?

Ajay Singh: We did hundreds of little things. Our main objective was to ensure that we increased revenue and reduced costs where we could. In terms of increasing revenue, we looked at every route, every station, and every plane, to make sure we were flying profitable routes and cutting out unprofitable ones. We cut a lot of routes and small stations. We tried to get back the basic core of low-cost flights which is flying many flights into one destination, rather than flying single flights to many destinations. We looked at fuel costs and how we could reduce that, how we could fly at a certain height with a certain speed, how we could cut an engine when we are taxiing, how much of the GPU and APU we are using etc. You have to start with the basics, and look at every single cost and see what it is, that you are not doing right. It is a continuous process. Watch my earlier #SimpliLive episode on SpiceJet’s turnaround.

Shashank: How did you turn the culture around and motivated people?

Ajay Singh: The base was already there. I tried to revive the start-up culture again. I told them that this was the bottom and that whatever we did now, we should make sure it will make ourselves and families proud, and be something we can look back on, and that we would be able to tell the story to our children.

I truly enjoyed my conversation with Ajay Singh. A remarkable turnaround, isn’t it? Let me know who you’d like to see on the SimpliFlying Live Show in the future.

Shashank Nigam

Shashank Nigam

Shashank Nigam is the CEO of SimpliFlying and a globally sought-after consultant, speaker and thought-leader on airline branding and customer engagement strategy. He is also the youngest winner of the Global Brand Leadership Award and has addressed senior aviation executives globally, from Chile to Canada and from Sydney to San Francisco.Shashank's perspectives have found their way into major media outlets, including CNN Travel, CNBC, MSNBC, Bloomberg UTV, Mashable and in leading publications like Airline Business, ATW, Aviation Week, and others.Shashank studied Information Systems Management and Business Management at Singapore Management University and Carnegie Mellon University. Hailing from India, he splits his time between Singapore and Vancouver, among other cities.
Shashank Nigam
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