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overvieW Quest for excellence Gary Chapman, President of Group Services and Dnata, believes the company’s efforts

Quest for excellence

Gary Chapman, President of Group Services and Dnata, believes the company’s efforts to provide quality service consistently, along with a motivated workforce, have been instrumental in its remarkable growth

By Georgina Wilson-Powell

Supplied by Dnata
Supplied by Dnata

Gary Chapman has a hands-on approach to management

G ary Chapman is President

of Group Services and Dnata,

Emirates Group. Having been

with the company for two decades, he has seen Dnata’s business, which includes ground handling, cargo, travel services and an international division, grow exponentially. On Dnata’s 50th anniversary, Chapman talks about the company with pride and of the staff who have worked with dedication and enthusiasm to make it what it is today. “Having been in the business for 50 years we’ve established a reputation for high standards and delivering on our promises,” Chapman says. “Dnata has demonstrated consistency, but that doesn’t mean we haven’t got room to improve. The quest for high standards, efficiency, better delivery and higher

customer satisfaction is something we strive for on a continual basis. People and businesses warm to that and realise, in the long term, if they want to have a safe, secure relationship with a service provider, we’re a good bet.” “I’ve been very fortunate to inherit from my predecessors a well-run organisation and to benefit from the continued support and guidance of H.H. Sheikh Ahmed Bin Saeed Al Maktoum, President of Dubai Civil Aviation Authority, Chairman of Dubai Airports and Chairman and Chief Executive of Emirates Airline and Group; Maurice Flanagan and other senior management of the Emirates Group.” Dnata has embraced new opportunities during Chapman’s association with the company. But

during Chapman’s association with the company. But Having been in the business for 50 years we’ve
during Chapman’s association with the company. But Having been in the business for 50 years we’ve

Having been in the business for 50 years we’ve established a reputation for high standards and delivering on our promises.

for high standards and delivering on our promises. refreshingly, it takes a modest approach to expansion.
for high standards and delivering on our promises. refreshingly, it takes a modest approach to expansion.

refreshingly, it takes a modest approach to expansion. “We’ve never taken the view that we want to be the biggest; there are other ground handling organisations that can claim that fame and the problems that go with that!

A lot of people believe that you need

to provide global coverage but it doesn’t work like that. Customers, either passengers or airlines, look

at the service at that particular airport, at that destination,” explains Chapman. “Fifteen years ago we ventured into looking after ground handling at four Pakistani airports,” Chapman says.

“I was involved in the establishment

of that joint venture and it’s been

a wonderful success.” Dnata’s

international ground handling business now operates at 17 airports globally and has tripled its business in the past three years. “We’ve acquired businesses whose standard of service is in keeping with Dnata’s own or where we can make changes to bring it into line with our existing businesses to ensure it meets expectations. There’s no point in us going into a business to make money and then [letting] the standards slip. We don’t want to simply maximise on the return for our investment in a short period of time, with no consideration for the customer and the businesses they in turn are running. That’s not how we do things.”

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Gulf News archive overvieW H.H. Sheikh Ahmed Bin Saeed Al Maktoum investing in technology Along with

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Gulf News archive overvieW H.H. Sheikh Ahmed Bin Saeed Al Maktoum investing in technology Along with

H.H. Sheikh Ahmed Bin Saeed Al Maktoum

investing in technology

Along with keeping a watchful eye on the people and processes that go to create high standards, Dnata has also invested significant sums in technology, especially in its cargo businesses. “We’ve been a leader in innovation on the cargo side, especially so with the new technology we’ve consistently implemented. We’ve been a leader in introducing low-cost operations here at Dubai International Airport, which have been copied at other airports. We’ve been good at recognising what is needed in the long term, especially with new technology.” Dnata is perhaps most recognisable in Dubai for its travel services business, headquartered in the familiar mirror- fronted building on the Sheikh Zayed Road. Chapman believes the division has about 40 per cent market share within the industry. “The travel services branch of Dnata has offices in all the GCC countries now as well as an office in Kabul. Travel presents a different set of challenges in a different business but we basically adopt the same approach. We’ve won awards for being the Best Travel Service Provider in the Middle East for the past few years,” says Chapman. “It demonstrates that we’ve built the business on high quality service and delivering what we promised to deliver.” For the aviation and travel services industry, Dnata’s 50th year comes at a tough time; both business models

NOVEMBER 2009

Supplied by Dnata
Supplied by Dnata

Maurice Flanagan

are changing rapidly with traditional revenue avenues experiencing a dip. Despite this, in 2008-09 Dnata recorded its highest-ever profit. “Customers want to see value addition; the old model is changing and becoming a supportive, travel management business,” he explains. “You have to make sure you’ve got the best travel arrangements, pricing, service and accessibility. It’s not just about delivering a ticket. The companies, like Dnata, who can provide that end-to-end management are the ones that are going to do better.” In 50 years, Dnata has seen Dubai spring up around it, rising from a small port to an international travel hub, and alongside it, the company’s staff has also grown. Chapman now heads about 12,000 staff across all Dnata divisions and it’s these individuals who make the company what it is today, a success both at home and abroad. “Dnata’s journey has been one of steady, solid growth. It’s been a positive experience and we have a belief that employees should be well looked after and well respected,” he says. “If you look at our organisation the contribution of our people is phenomenal. And by and large they join us and stay with us. At the end of the day that’s testimony to the kind of business we are and how we take care of our staff.”

Sensible flexibility

But how does a company as big as

Supplied by Dnata
Supplied by Dnata

Dnata Travel Services has won numerous awards

Dnata continue to have a satisfied and motivated workforce? Chapman explains. “It’s important to have really good HR practices and policies and I think the Emirates Group and Dnata are among the leaders in that. If you haven’t got a solid foundation then everything else just falls down around you,” he says. “A business needs rules and regulations, but there is also a need for sensible flexibility from time to time. Most importantly, you need to make sure that you are as consistent in the application of those as you can be. We believe we’re good at looking after our staff, helping them and being compassionate when it really matters. Business is not always just about money but about people and I am passionate in that respect.” With so much experience under his belt, Chapman has seen Dnata grow and achieve particular successes that are close to his heart. “I am immensely proud of the fact that we have gone global and still maintained high standards and reputations so that now when we look at Dnata we can feel confident and comfortable.” “The company has faced unique challenges in its past, such as complicated regional expansion, and will continue to do so in its future. The new Dubai World Central airport at Jebel Ali will be coming online soon, which will bring its own set of issues for Dnata to work with,” he continues.

Supplied by Dnata
Supplied by Dnata

Dnata’s international ground handling businesses operate in 17 airports globally, including Dubai International

“Any situation where you’re operating dual airports can be difficult,” says Chapman. “The airport will handle both cargo and passengers but we don’t know yet how it will be split. It’s important to try to grow the pie, not just move

some of it to another location. But Dnata is well embedded in the airport and in Dubai and is committed to supporting Dubai, so we will find a way to do what is needed. It’s more important to us to put things in place that will be good for the city, rather than being driven by that last dollar. We don’t argue about it, we just get on with it. It’s unusual and I don’t think you would get that level of commitment in any other environment. I consider that to be

a major plus and it’s why the city

works so well.” Chapman continues to be proud of the workforce that will help him achieve all this and speaks passionately about them. As President of Dnata, he is dynamic, strong and confident in his management. “There are cycles of business and I’ve been around long enough to see

this business go full cycle and it always comes back to the same thing. You’ve got to have a workforce which is motivated,

a workforce that will go that extra mile for you, a workforce which is proud to be part of the business. Then you simply have to give them guidance and support and mesh all that together.

If you see something that is not quite right, you’ve got to adjust things, bring in new practices and get everything back online.” Having worked his way to the top over the past 20 years, Chapman knows his organisation and his industry inside out and has developed a particular management style for Dnata. “I’m a great believer in the ‘feet-on-the-ground’ approach. You’ve got to be prepared to roll your sleeves up and get your hands dirty. I don’t think you should be prepared to ask anyone to do something if you wouldn’t do it yourself.” “As a company we are well structured, well organised and well managed and we have great people. You need all of that to make any business work. We’re in a service industry, so we need to make sure that people feel good about their jobs, about themselves and about how they’re managed. I think we’ve got that balance right”. As Dubai keeps growing, you can expect Dnata to be there, but its sights are not just set on the local market. As an international player, Dnata is continually looking at opportunities to continue expanding its business horizons overseas. “We are looking at opportunities where we can get a reasonable return. That’s something we do have to be realistic about, because the ground

handling business is a mature and competitive one, which means the margins are small. Nevertheless, we will continue to have acquisitions in the future. In fact, there are two for which negotiations are well advanced but I can’t say any more than that! We’ll announce both new ventures, all being well, but when the time is right.”

Getting the basics right

Never one to sit back and be complacent, Chapman is focusing on the future and while new acquisitions

certainly play a part in that, he believes the true way to success lies in keeping an eye on things closer to home, where he is constantly looking for improvement. “When we are asked to talk about our strategies for the future, people think you are going to reveal something totally profound and hair-raising! But business isn’t like that. It’s about ensuring you are doing the basics, doing them well and doing them consistently. I’m involved in a wide variety of businesses but if we can’t get the basics right such as employing staff who smile at customers, delivering on our promises and servicing our customers on time, then we don’t have

a future. My challenge going forward

is to continue to work on those basics, because the moment you think you have

it sorted, you’re in trouble!” n

NOVEMBER 2009

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Gulf News archive DNATA’S GroWTH Realisation of a dream In the last 50 years Dnata has

DNATA’S GroWTH

Realisation of a dream

In the last 50 years Dnata has grown at an astounding pace

In the last 50 years Dnata has grown at an astounding pace Ismail Ali Albanna, Executive

Ismail Ali Albanna, Executive Vice President, Dnata

W ith a career spanning over

four decades, Ismail Ali

Albanna, Executive Vice

President, Dnata, is the company’s longest serving staff member. He joined the company on April 1, 1967. Ismail, an Emirati, has been credited with pioneering all overseas joint venture projects for Dnata and represents the company at IATA and Gulf Airport Services Association meetings. He also ensures that measures are in place to protect and facilitate Dnata’s commercial interests. “Dnata is like my baby. I grew up with Dnata,” says Ismail, who joined the company as a traffic clerk and rose through the ranks to become director of passenger and communication in 1981. He was promoted to Acting Deputy Director airport ground services in 1983, and became Director of airport services in 1990. He has been serving in his current role since 2003. What did you know about Dnata at the time of joining the company? When I joined Dnata in 1967, it was the only travel agency in Dubai. I first heard about Dnata from Nasser Abdullah Lootah, who was the chairman of the Al Wahda Club that I was playing football for, and coincidentally he was the Head of Dnata at that time. I was

NOVEMBER 2009

initially working with the British Bank of the Middle East when the late Sheikh Maktoum Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, who used to support the club I was playing for, advised me to join Dnata. What are your earliest recollections of working at Dnata? I joined as a check-in clerk. There were only 10 to 15 employees and just one manager. He was Indian, as were most of my colleagues. UAE nationals accounted for around five staff members. During those days, each employee did a little bit of everything — job descriptions were not strictly outlined or adhered to as they are today. What are your memories of the airport expansion and the subsequent move to a larger office space? When the new airport expansion work began, I remember wondering why it was being built so far away. Why was the government making it so big and who would occupy it? When we moved to the new terminal in 1971, I thought I would ‘lose’ my staff in its vast expanse! What is the single-most defining moment in the history of Dnata? Dnata’s incredible growth is tightly linked to the meteoric rise of the city of Dubai. This phenomenal growth has come about only due to the leadership and efforts of the first Ruler of

only due to the leadership and efforts of the first Ruler of It was normal to
only due to the leadership and efforts of the first Ruler of It was normal to

It was normal to hope Dnata would [succeed]. [But] the pace and scale at which it has grown has been beyond anyone’s expectations.

which it has grown has been beyond anyone’s expectations. Dubai, the late Sheikh Rashid Bin Saeed
which it has grown has been beyond anyone’s expectations. Dubai, the late Sheikh Rashid Bin Saeed

Dubai, the late Sheikh Rashid Bin Saeed Al Maktoum. What impact has the launch of Emirates airline in 1985 had on Dnata? Emirates airline has definitely helped Dnata grow; every progress of the airline has reflected on Dnata too. Today, 60 per cent of the whole ground handling operation Dnata has at the Dubai Airport is for Emirates. Every airline needs an efficient and service-oriented ground handling team to make its operations a success. In that respect, Dnata and Emirates complement each other; they share a perfect bond that links the two together. Dnata has consistently broken new ground. What three elements do you think have been key in shaping Dnata’s continuous strive towards excellence? Any successful business requires three basic elements — 1) Support from the authorities and management 2) A very good team that works together towards a common goal and 3) The aim of providing the best service to people. Did you ever envisage that Dnata would grow into what it is today? It was only normal to hope that Dnata would grow into full maturity over a period of time. However, the pace and scale at which it has grown has been beyond, I believe, anyone’s expectations. But we, cannot take sole credit for this success story. The credit lies with the vision of the government who dreamed big enough to make the city of Dubai what it is today. n

The credit lies with the vision of the government who dreamed big enough to make the