Determined to join the league of five-star airlines within the next five years, Philippine Airlines President and COO Jaime J Bautista needs his entire team onboard. His motivation? To see them enjoy the prestige of working for the best, and to set an exceptional benchmark for all Filipinos. The CEO Magazine spoke with Jaime about his vision.
The CEO Magazine: Can you please give an overview of your professional background at Philippine Airlines leading up to and including your current role?
Jaime: I joined Philippine Airlines [PAL] in April 1993 as Vice-President. Then I was promoted to Senior Vice-President of Finance and Chief Finance Officer in 1994, and was elected by the Board as President and COO in 2004 until 2012. After a two-year absence, during the San Miguel-led management of PAL, I rejoined PAL as President and COO in 2014.
When you came onboard at Philippine Airlines, what initial opportunities did you see for yourself and the company?
When I joined PAL in 1993, we looked at modernising some of the products and services: inflight entertainment, meals, Skybeds, reservation systems, marketing channels, et cetera. We also became focused on improving the airline’s overall efficiency by expanding our network, opening new international and domestic routes. The company’s decision-making process as well as employee morale improved significantly.
“Being a national icon in the Philippines carries the responsibility of maintaining high standards of customer service. We have to seek higher levels of excellence as Filipinos look up to us as the showcase of the best of the Philippines.” – Jaime J Bautista
What is your main area of focus right now?
At present, I need to rally the whole PAL organisation towards a single goal — to become a five-star airline. All our efforts must be aligned towards this vision. I must ensure that the different departments and offices understand the goal and then solicit their commitment. We have to stay united and provide our frontliners with the support they need to deliver world-class service to our passengers. We have to constantly identify and address areas of operations requiring improvement. Our focus will always be the customer.
Looking to the future, what are your plans for the company’s growth?
We are looking to rejoin the league of the world’s best airlines within the next five years. In doing this, we can become a beacon of pride for Filipinos anywhere in the world, setting a benchmark for success among companies in the Philippines.
Being a national icon in the Philippines carries the responsibility of maintaining high standards of customer service. We have to seek higher levels of excellence because Filipinos look up to us as the showcase of the best of the Philippines. This means providing them with quality air transport service wherever they are around the globe, serving as the link to their homeland. Route expansion to more cities will allow us to fulfil this mandate.
Philippine Airlines has a long heritage of 75 years in business. How does this history affect its day-to-day runnings?
No other Philippines-based airline can claim 75 years of being in business.The collective experience of PAL workers provides a distinctive edge, allowing us to dig into that pool of experience whenever confronted by challenges. Many loyal PAL staff spend lifelong careers with us, and we equip them with valuable experience on how to handle all situations. Many of them come from families who have served at PAL for generations, handing down insightful lessons on doing their jobs well.
How important is passenger satisfaction and safety to the airline?
Our mission is to deliver safe, reliable, efficient and pleasant travel experiences exceeding passenger expectations, to provide satisfying career progression to our employees and adequate returns to our shareholders, and to represent the best of the Philippines, and the best of Filipinos, to the world. Embedded in our mission statement is our belief in the primacy of safety and service to our passengers. Part of that vision is to go beyond passengers’ expectations. At the centre of our campaign to get a five-star rating is the focus on customer satisfaction. We are looking at all aspects of customer service, all points of contact, to determine areas of improvement.
What are some of the challenges facing the aviation industry right now?
The aviation industry’s prime challenge today is air-traffic congestion. In Manila, the lack of basic infrastructure hampers efforts to find a permanent solution to congestion. PAL is taking the initiative to help decongest the main airport in Manila [Ninoy Aquino International Airport — NAIA] by initially transferring some international flights to Clark International Airport, north of Manila. The NAIA is reaching its maximum capacity, so there is a need to address the issues around airport infrastructure. Another challenge is
our lack of membership in a global airline alliance. Joining an alliance will allow us to dramatically expand our market reach. We need to sustain our financial stability in order to form one of these alliances.
How does Philippine Airlines develop relationships with key suppliers, and what benefits as a company do you see from these collaborations?
We have nurtured warm and mutually beneficial relationships over the decades with a pool of key suppliers that understand the peculiarities of our requirements. We give them business; in turn, they provide us quality products and services. We regard our major suppliers as partners who collaborate with us on many corporate activities, from the recent PAL seventy-fifth anniversary celebration, to annual golf tournaments, inaugural flights, and service launches.
What do you love most about your job?
Aside from the benefit of visiting far-away cities, there is the unquantifiable reward when passengers give compliments for their wonderful experience with PAL. Everyday, I am motivated to go to the office because of sincere, encouraging remarks from colleagues — from fellow executives to clerks and secretaries.