TBY talks to Tim Clark, President of Emirates Airline, on Al Maktoum International Airport, the success of the company, and global travel trends.

Tim Clark
Tim Clark has been in the civil aviation business his entire professional career, having joined British Caledonian in 1972. In 1975, he moved to Gulf Air in Bahrain and subsequently in 1985 to Dubai, where he became a member of the founding team of Emirates Airline as Head of Airline Planning. Between April 1998 and March 2008, he was also the Managing Director of Sri Lankan Airlines, the latter position resulted from the Emirates Airline acquisition in April 1998 of a major stake in the airline with full management control. He holds a degree in Economics from London University, and is a Fellow of the Royal Aeronautical Society.

What is the importance of the development of infrastructure, like the new Terminal A and Al Maktoum Airport for Emirates Airline?

Dubai has exploded onto the world stage. The government and HH Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, UAE Vice-President and Prime Minister, and Ruler of Dubai, have made Dubai and the airline global. HH Sheikh Mohammed set up Emirates Airline, and for seven years people thought that it would become nothing more than a regional carrier. It is amazing what has taken place. Gulf Air became less important and individual countries began to set up their own airlines, like Qatar Airways and Oman Air. Their business models are all the same as ours, and other countries have followed our lead, leaving groups like Star Alliance and taking control of their own destiny. When we built Concourse A, we had absolute control over what we were designing. Here, HH Sheikh Mohammed is my direct boss, and when we need to get something done, I talk to him directly. We do not waste time with inefficient board meetings and endless bureaucratic wrangling—he simply decides to get a job done, and in come the designers and engineers and whoever else is needed. London has been agonizing over building a new terminal for 20 years, and it still is not completed. Boris Johnson, the Mayor of London, came here and asked how it was possible to complete an expansion of this magnitude. I explained that it was because we have a government that is 100% behind us.

Why did you succeed when other airlines were failing?

It is a question of timing, alignment, and understanding what was going on. It was a question of moving rapidly to do what we had always wanted to do, which was to take people from Yokohama to São Paulo, or from San Francisco to Hyderabad. The growth of Dubai up until 2008, mixed with the changing nature of international air travel demand, and a realization of the shift of economic power not just from West to East, but to Latin America and Africa as well, led to new opportunities that were not seized by European airlines and many others. We added destinations in Africa, and in the 1990s and 2000s Africa exploded. The Chinese came in droves, and the key was realizing that these new trends were taking place. On their way to Africa, the Chinese saw what was happening in Dubai and decided to set up shop. Now, the Chinese community here is huge, and this is due to travel to Africa. We had links to China and Africa and were able to become the carrier for this movement of people. The Chinese are looking to Brazil, the Brazilians are looking to Africa, and the Southeast Asians are looking to South Africa. We watch trends and keep records of our corporate travelers, and micro-manage individual passengers' experiences. Through this process, we understand global travel trends.

Customer needs are related not only to service, but also to flexibility in terms of routes. How do you adapt to what people are demanding?

We must adapt rapidly. People were very set in their ways in the past. There were some changes back in this post-war era; however, this was nothing in comparison with the enormous changes brought about by telecommunications and digital technology. Successful companies adapted to these technologies. Sitting at the center of an international communications web like Dubai, we could see all of the changes happening in countries right around the world. We watched these changes and adapted. We are making our brand ubiquitous in its international reach and are trying to make people think, “Does Emirates Airline fly there?" instead of “How can I get there?" when planning a trip. When we cross the Pacific, we will be a truly global brand. People are genuinely excited about us coming to new countries because they know about the variety of destinations we provide and the quality of service we offer. Ultimately, however, success is about people.

“We do not waste time with inefficient board meetings and endless bureaucratic wrangling."