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The first significant management change rolled out by the Tatas for Air India was when N. Chandrasekaran took over as the airline’s chairman earlier this year. Now, the Tata Group has effected the second, reconstituting its board as a nice mix of old Maharaja hands and brand-new expertise.

People working in other Tata companies have replaced some of the Air India board members, who will move to other senior management positions within the airline. Some Air India employees will continue on the board.

The rejig is well thought-out. It’s a smart move to bring veterans from other Tata group companies to Air India's reconstituted board, while retaining some employees on it, valuing their special expertise.

With this deft move, the Tata Group has ensured that no wrong message will go down to the airline’s 10,800 employees, including 7,000 permanent staffers who will continue working for it under the new management. The board members being moved out were in senior positions overseeing Air India’s accumulation of colossal losses. The message being sent is that they are being given a fresh chance to contribute to the airline’s turnaround.

Nipun Aggarwal, who represented the Tatas during the privatization process, has been appointed Air India's chief commercial officer (CCO) and accountable manager. He will oversee critical decisions on routes and, along with director-operations, select the best-suited aircraft to deploy on each route. This becomes even more significant for Air India as it desperately needs new aircraft, a costly proposition that entails working closely with foreign and Indian banks to secure the best price for the planes. Aggarwal, who has worked with a host of international banks including Bank of America, Merrill Lynch and Standard Chartered Bank, is well-placed to work out the financial deals for the new aircraft acquisitions.

He will work closely with Vinod Hejmadi, one of the Air India employees retained, and reappointed as chief financial officer. Hejmadi brings in years of experience in Air India’s finance department. Captain R.S. Sandhu has been retained as chief of operations, another important position that decides on deploying the best aircraft on a route for maximum profitability.

Suresh Dutt Tripathi has been appointed Air India’s chief human resource officer. He comes from Tata Steel, where he headed human resources, overseeing its employee force of over 65,000. Satya Ramaswamy, head of strategic initiatives at Tata Digital, is now the chief digital and technology officer at the airline. Rajesh Dogra, a Tata Consultancy Services veteran, has been appointed head of customer experience.

Meenakshi Malik, who was looking after commercial aspects in Air India, and Amrita Sharan who was in charge of HR, will be advisors to Chandrasekaran on commercial, technology and HR matters.

The appointments are a sure-shot way of ensuring that any HR issues that may arise on the implementation of the pending recommendations of the Dharmadhikari report will be dealt with by gaining from the experience of persons from within the airline. The Justice D.M. Dharmadhikari committee was set up for suggesting ways and means for harmonization and rationalization of the huge work force of Indian Airlines and Air India, which were merged into a single entity in 2007. The merger had created a lot of bad blood over seniority and wages among personnel of the two airlines.

By blending members of the old management with the new inductees, the Tatas have given Air India a shot at simultaneously striving for both continuity and change, and a mix of private and public sector cultures. Air India now has a remarkable opportunity to succeed, with these win-win combinations.

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