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Leading lights – June 2014

CEO, CHAMP Cargosystems

John Johnston, former chief information officer and vice president of Cargolux Airlines, has held senior executive positions in several countries and has provided senior management and consulting services to a number of global airlines. He sits on the board of directors of companies in both Asia and Europe.


Johnston has been serving the aviation industry for over 20 years. In his professional life he has been involved in the development of computer hardware, radio frequency hand-held systems, and air cargo software solutions. In recent years he has been responsible for the creation and growth of CHAMP Cargosystems, which celebrates its 10th anniversary this year.


In March 2013, Johnston was elected as chairman of the British Chamber of Commerce (BCC) in Luxembourg. The BCC is the largest foreign Chamber in Luxembourg, with over 300 company and individual members representing in excess of €20 billion in annual revenues.


What is your earliest aviation memory?

Spending a summer at an aunt’s country house in the UK in the late 60s. Her house was near an RAF base and I could watch the amazing Avro Vulcan bombers taking off and coming in to land… magic for a small boy!   


What attracted you to the air cargo industry?

I was an IT professional working as a contract programmer. I came to Luxembourg in 1990 on a three-month programming contract for Cargolux. While I was there I became fascinated by the industry and decided to build a career within it.


Would you choose the same industry again if you were starting out now?

That’s an impossible question to answer. Would I have chosen a different course 24 years ago, when I first got involved in air cargo, with what I know today? The answer is no. I enjoy what I do and I work with a brilliant team.


What drives you?

Knowing I’m making a difference.


What have been your proudest moments?

Celebrating 10 successful years with CHAMP has to be one of the best moments of my professional career. When we started CHAMP back in 2004 there was a lot of scepticism within the industry and opposition, both internal and external. Many ‘industry gurus’ predicted we would not succeed – I still have the press cuttings. 10 years of continued growth and profitability, no debt, the ability to continue both organic and non-organic growth from earned revenues and no need for shareholder capital injections, we must be doing something right! 


And your greatest disappointments?

I’m very fortunate and can honestly say I have had very few big disappointments.


What significant changes have you seen in the industry since you joined?

When I started in the industry Boeing 747-100s were still widely used, fuel prices were sane, China was a country that had a big wall, the Gulf States were a region you flew over and the internet was only just beginning to gain widespread interest. Since then our industry has lived through Y2K (who remembers that?), the dot-com bubble burst, the Gulf Wars, SARS, 9/11, Icelandic volcanoes and Lehman Brothers, to name but a few. We have seen soaring fuel prices, increased security, fundamental shifts in the economic landscape with the emergence of China and India as powerhouses, as well as the creation and phenomenal growth in influence of the gulf carriers.

Throughout this period the internet has exploded into every household in the developed world, mobile technology is omnipresent giving us access to the majority of all human knowledge at our fingertips. People now do the majority of their gift shopping online and in some countries online grocery shopping has reached 70%. 


The air cargo industry has demonstrated its resilience throughout this period and has gone/is going through a fundamental shift in information technology capability. Cost containment necessities, consolidations and market forces have meant the pace of new technology adoption has been slow compared to other industries, but this is changing.


What frustrates you about this industry?

Too many committees, too much talking, not enough pragmatic action. Innovation is sometimes resisted or hampered from the most surprising places.


What do you think the air cargo industry needs to focus on at the moment?

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