No better time to step off the treadmill: Aditya Ghosh
Mumbai: Setting up IndiGo and making it India’s largest airline all in a matter of 10 years has been “a sprint” and “not a marathon”, said Aditya Ghosh, who will step down as president and wholetime director of Interglobe Aviation Ltd on 31 July.
“I had been talking to the founders, Rahul and Rakesh for a while. We have worked closely for nearly 16 years. So, it took me a while to convince them that I am actually serious about branching out and doing something different,” Ghosh, who is a lawyer by profession said in an interview, allaying concerns that he had a fallout with the founders amid several PR fiascos concerning IndiGo passengers and grounding of IndiGo planes due to snags in Pratt & Whitney engines. “I felt that there is no better time than this to step off the treadmill and think of my next adventure,” he said. Edited excerpts from an email interview:
How do you assess your tenure/stint at IndiGo viz-a-viz the aviation sector that has expanded massively in the last decade. What have been the highs and lows?
The aviation industry in India has grown at an exponential rate over the past decade or so. In 2006, the total number of air passengers in India annually, was a mere 18 million. In a matter of only 140 months or so, this number has multiplied to close to a 120 million.
When IndiGo started operations in 2006, all the airlines put together flew 18 million air passengers. This year in 2018, IndiGo alone will carry 50 million passengers. Here is an interesting factoid. Currently, IndiGo flies 6 IPL stadiums worth of people every day! That is about 1 million people every week.
Today, India is one of the three largest aviation markets in the world and some of our airlines are counted as the fastest growing globally.
I came into this operating role of leading the airline when we were flying less than 20 airplanes. Now it’s over a 160. I think we had less than a hundred daily flights. Now, it’s over 1,000 to over 50 cities. The largest airline operation that India has ever seen. We had not broken even then and since then, not only has the airline has had an unbroken track record of profitability but today, it’s one of the largest publicly listed companies in India, with the stock price having nearly doubled since IPO. We were about 1100 employees then and today we are over 17000. Operationally, it’s hit the ball out of the park—best on time, best technical dispatch reliability; lowest cost structure; nearly the least number of customer complaints. And the accolade that’s the dearest to me—one of the best companies to work for ten years in a row.
Frankly, I don’t see life as a contrast of low points and high points. Every day and every year threw up its own unique challenges. One must take steps to mitigate those challenges; learn from them and come out stronger.
How has the transition been for you personally, from being a lawyer to heading the largest domestic airline?
I was last a lawyer 10 years ago. I have been in this operating role for a decade now. The transition was smooth. It was even easier than I thought it would be because of the support I got from my colleagues. In the past 365 days, there wasn’t a single day when I did not learn something new. A stint where each and every day I felt that I had one of the best jobs in the world because of the people I get to come to work with. And finally, where I had a once in a lifetime opportunity to help create something that the world had not experienced before.
Where is IndiGo headed after your departure?
With a solid track record, robust processes in place, an experienced leadership team and an army of passionate hard-working employees, IndiGo is in safe hands. Of course, it will be up to the new leadership to shape the future.
IndiGo’s entry into the long-haul international markets didn’t quite take off during your tenure. In hindsight, how would you look at this?
Now that there is a solid foundation, there are lots of new opportunities for the organisation to chase in the future.
How was your experience in running IndiGo as a privately held company versus running the airline after listing?
It’s different but equally interesting in their own ways. I thoroughly enjoyed my role every day.
Why did you resign now, especially at a time when the airline is the market leader by miles, and is also looking to expand its operations?
It has been a difficult decision. One with mixed emotions. I cannot begin to describe the love and affection I have got from my colleagues. It is almost unreal!
As I wrote to my colleagues, I have been in this current role for ten years now. This has been a relentless and non-stop effort. It was not a marathon but a sprint. At the same time, it has been an amazing ride! I was having a lot of fun in creating something that this country had never seen before. Having said that, I had been wanting to do something new for a while. I had been talking to the founders, Rahul and Rakesh, for a while. We have worked closely for nearly 16 years. So it took me a while to convince them that I am actually serious about branching out and doing something different. Having built a rock solid foundation where the organisation, as you said, is a market leader by miles, I felt that there is no better time than this to step off the treadmill and think of my next adventure.
What next for you?
It is too early for me to comment on that. All I can tell you is that as I pause to think through the next adventure, I am ever curious and passionate about new things and I have kept an open mind.