In his previous job, Robert Deillon spent a lot of time in the air. However he didn’t work in aviation—he worked for an independent airline catering business called Gate Gourmet. Robert found the travel interesting, but after a while he was looking for something a little more stable with more time spent on the ground. Fittingly, he now works at an airport. When he first took over as CEO at Geneva’s busy airport, having used its services for many years he knew instantly that a major shake-up was required. Not only was the airport too small to accommodate Switzerland’s growing international travel needs, but its food and retail offering was outdated as well.

“As a traveller, you really notice things like customer service, and how you would improve it. I was using the airport at least twice a week, and coming from a catering background, I could see that improving the offering in that space was something that I’d like to do,” he says. “So my focus was mainly on what we could do to improve customer service, customer satisfaction, and the customer experience.”

The first thing he did was talk to all the staff about ways to engage better with passengers and improve the level of customer service. “The other thing that I noticed was the need to do something about the airport capacity, which was really, really tight. There was no strategy in place to cope with this, so I established a 10-year plan to expand the airport.”

It has proved to be a much greater challenge than Robert first realised. In the 10 years since he joined, the number of passengers using the airport each year has grown from 8 million to 15 million. Coupled with that, the terminal building has been under constant renovation for that entire period. So while trying to expand the space, he ended up effectively shrinking it, by having to shut down space for renovations. “It’s quite difficult because we need to transform the airport while it is still in operation. We can’t tell our passengers that it’s going to be difficult for 2 years, but after 2 years they will have a brand new airport. The message is more like: ‘Sorry, but for 2 years it’s going to be difficult on the first floor, but when we finish the work there, we’ll work on the second floor, and so on’. This airport has been more or less under construction since I arrived, so for the last 10 years we have had a very large project impacting capacity and customer service processes.”