Bangalore: Though she is the daughter of G.R. Gopinath, who pioneered low-fare air travel in India with Air Deccan, aviation wasn’t the first love of Pallavi Gopinath. After studying English literature, she went on to media studies and an internship at BBC, before her first stint in aviation as an intern at European plane maker Airbus SAS in Toulouse, France.
Pallavi Gopinath then went on to work with Avions De Transport Regionale (ATR) and pursued an MBA in aerospace, which, she says, prepared her for a role in her father’s latest start-up, Deccan Cargo Express and Logistics Pvt. Ltd, which operates the cargo airline Deccan 360.
She began as a management trainee and is currently associate manager for ground operations. Her role is to coordinate between the Deccan 360 hub in Nagpur and the spokes, which are the partner franchises across India. “I think she is very passionate. She has got a lot of aggression in her,” says her father.
New flight: Deccan Cargo’s Pallavi Gopinath.
In an interview, Pallavi Gopinath speaks about her role, ideas and the future. Edited excerpts:
So how did aviation happen?
It was really by chance because my dad was in London at that time meeting Mr. Kiran Rao of Airbus and I was doing my internship in BBC, so I met them over dinner. We were talking and he (Rao) said how would you like to pursue an internship, to begin with in the communication department. So I thought it sounded very exciting. (Rao is executive vice-president for sales and marketing at Airbus.)
Was your dad encouraging and supportive at that point?
He was quiet and did not say anything. After that he was pretty happy when I did go for it.
So what was it like because you actually worked with Airbus in France. How was that experience like for you?
To be honest.., I found that a little boring and so I moved to the marketing department. That is when I really got into it because they asked me to do a marketing study on the potential of civil aviation in India.
This was what period?
When Air Deccan started (in 2003).
Was it never a consideration for you to actually come back and start Air Deccan with your dad?
Not at that time, no. It did not even cross my mind.
And he didn’t offer it either?
No. Probably he said make your mistake somewhere else and then come back.
I remember having this conversation with your dad and he was really like giving a daughter away when he sold his stake in Air Deccan. What was it like as far as you are concerned?
To be honest, when all these things were happening, I was very upset myself because we were all very proud of what he began.
Did he discuss all this with you?
No. The day I saw it in the headlines and I called him up and he was really busy at that time going for his meetings and discussions with Mr. Mallya.. I was really upset and he was a bit annoyed with me because he was already stressed and I was stressing him out more with my questions and hysteria. (Vijay Mallya’s Kingfisher Airlines bought Air Deccan.)
But he is not a man who gives up. His friends call him the energizer bunny and he keeps at it and if one door closes, the next one opens up...
That’s what I really love about him because his energy motivates everyone around him, also the undying optimism that he has.
Like he said himself that if he has resources he can’t just sit back and do nothing because when he didn’t have the resources he created something.
So what was the turning point for you to actually give up ATR and move back to India and start Deccan Cargo?
One aspect is to have a more challenging job because I was working in a very structured environment and everything was just laid out and I had to do my basic research, my MBA, my thesis and that was it. There was nothing new or challenging in that job. So when he told me that we have started Deccan 360, I said it is the best place to go.
So this time did he make you the offer?
Yes, he said why don’t you come back and get involved in Deccan 360.
You are looking after ground operations and that is a crucial aspect of the cargo business, isn’t it? Has it been harder than what you had anticipated?
Totally. First of all, to set up the business or setting up the ground operations part of it, coordinating with the franchises, making it standardized, making sure everybody is on the same pace because time is the main factor in the logistics industry.
So to set up this from scratch is a huge challenge.
How have the first few months been like for Deccan 360?
It’s been quite a roller-coaster ride, like in any start-up.
Since your father has made very clear that he wants to position this company as the FedEx of India, is there a 12-month target... or a 24-month target?
Operationally speaking, I would say it’s already starting to happen and we are focused towards getting this right in a couple of months, maximum. But to say it would be the FedEx of India, I suppose a year would be okay.
One of the challenges is capital because it’s a capital-intensive business and when you were actually starting things we had the financial downturn and most of the capital was put in by your father. How much of a challenge does capital continue to be?
I think now it’s not so much of a problem any more.
Initially, of course it was, but even Air Deccan started when the economy wasn’t that great and now I do not think people—as far as I know and as far as I have understood—I do not think people have problem with investing in Deccan.
What has been the biggest lesson that you have learnt from your father?
That it is just not enough to be a consumer in the society, you have to contribute and also to respect people, of whichever strata they come from, and that’s the main thing. And you have to work hard...
Where would you like to see yourself in the next few years?
Within the same company but doing much more than what I am doing right now, with more responsibilities in terms of whether it is operations or sales or marketing.
Eventually take over from your father?
As long as my passion sustains, I would be here.