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Leading lights - September 2012

In his first interview, Kenji Hashimoto, new president of American Airlines Cargo, reveals what he thinks of the cargo business, and how hard it is to step into Dave Brooks’ shoes

Kenji Hashimoto took over from Dave Brooks in May 2012. He joined the Cargo team after 14 years with American Airlines (AA), serving as the airline’s vice president-strategic alliances for the past three years. In this role, he led the airline’s entry into joint business agreements with British Airways, Iberia, Japan Air Lines, and Qantas. Prior to that, he worked on the analysis of AA’s routes, as well as labour and competitive issues. He has also served as managing director – investor relations, and managing director – finance, Europe & Pacific, based in London. In addition, he has held roles in sales and financial planning.


The airline

Following in the footsteps of the other major US carriers, AA is undergoing Chapter 11 reorganisation, having filed for bankruptcy in November 2011. The courts have given the airline until September to propose its own plan for reorganisation. US Airways is keen to take over AMR Corp, and has wooed labour groups at AA, but the move has so far been resisted by the bankrupt carrier. “American is not going to determine its strategic future based on the urgent need of another company to make a deal,” CEO Tom Horton said in July. “It was unfortunate that US Airways sought to disrupt our restructuring.”


Meanwhile, alliance partner IAG Group, which under US law cannot take more than a 25% share in a US airline, has admitted it would be interested in taking a stake.


How are you finding the cargo industry so far?

It’s incredible. When I was appointed, I was thinking about my career progression, but now I find that the business and the people are really exciting. I have a full set of responsibilities and that’s exciting too.


My first impressions were good – in the first month I was really excited, but now it’s become even more interesting. My initial impressions have been exceeded.


How does it differ from the passenger side of the business?

There are a couple of things that differ. AA Cargo has such a broad and deep focus on customers. I always thought that the sales team would, but I am surprised that operations are also very customer focused. Even the accounting teams are. At CNS, two customers talked to me about how helpful the accounting team had been.


What will you do differently from Dave Brooks?

I will have the same focus. The message hasn’t changed, and everything will continue as it was before. I need to get to know everyone, and will take the opportunity to see the teams in various cities. We are restructuring, and will rebuild the management team and look at longer term strategies. But we also need to build on the customer focus.


Will you stay in cargo?

I learned early on that with every job it’s best not to answer that question. Not because I am being evasive, but because I don’t know. I’ve been at AA for 14 years, and to begin with, you bounce around various jobs – I would have got the answer wrong. I’ve always had interesting roles within the company. I’ve definitely caught the cargo bug, but I would have said that about strategic alliances too.


How is the cargo division perceived within the wider AA group?

I’ve discovered that there are a lot of interesting things to do in cargo. One of the things I want to do is update the leadership team and help them get a better sense of our business. People understand the maths. They see it as a good opportunity but are a bit fuzzy on the contribution – is it as good as it can be, or are there more opportunities there? It makes up a small percentage of revenues, but a big percentage of net income and people struggle to understand that. There’s a lot we can do internally. 


What’s on your list of things to do?

There are quite a few projects that Dave started. I had a look and saw that they are good, and we need to finish them perhaps even earlier than he had anticipated. They are good opportunities and things that can provide more in terms of revenues. Combined with our restructuring and improved cost structure, it will make the cargo division more competitive.

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