Article: Addressing apprehensions around travel will be challenging: Sunil Bhaskaran, CEO & MD, AirAsia India


Addressing apprehensions around travel will be challenging: Sunil Bhaskaran, CEO & MD, AirAsia India

The industry veteran feel that employees who are a part of operations will continue to report to work usually, however other teams may continue to work from home based on how the situation unfolds.
Addressing apprehensions around travel will be challenging:  Sunil Bhaskaran, CEO & MD, AirAsia India

Sunil Bhaskaran is a Tata Group veteran with a rich career spanning 30 years across various roles in Tata Steel and Tata International. In his previous role as Vice President, Corporate Services at Tata Steel, Bhaskaran held a diverse portfolio, providing leadership for such functions as regulatory affairs, procurement, corporate communications and external relations, corporate social responsibility, corporate administration, security, medical services and aviation services, along with the administration of civic services at Jamshedpur.

In an interaction with People Matters, he shares the apprehensions in the travel industry, why he follows Winston Churchill in times of crisis and his productivity hack during this lockdown. 

What are some of the leadership lessons that have guided you in the current times of crisis?  Who is the one leader who you consider inspiration in a firefighting crisis?

As a leader, adaptability is an attribute that plays a key role in navigating our way through any crisis. Along with adaptability one needs to continue to be able to motivate one’s team and the larger organization, retain a positive spirit, foster teamwork and guide the organization to move in the right direction. Communication is critical in cascading the vision to all our stakeholders, customers, Allstars(AirAsia fondly refers to their employees as Allstars), business partners and regulatory bodies. I also believe that ‘emotional intelligence’ is an indispensable quality every leader must possess. It helps create a stronger bond within your work family and sail through any situation. I believe in Winston Churchill’s adage ‘Never let a good crisis go to waste’.

Do you see your role as more of a big-picture strategist or a hands-on manager?

I believe my role is an amalgamation of being both - a big picture strategist and a hands-on manager. While steering AirAsia India in the context of the promising space that Indian aviation holds as we look to the future, I ensure I take out time to meet and engage with fellow Allstars from each department every day, with initiatives like having a virtual coffee with cross-functional Allstars in this period. This helps me understand their concerns, address challenges and concerns, and grants unfettered feedback on a daily basis. it also promotes and demonstrates the permissive atmosphere without hierarchy that is the cornerstone of the AirAsia culture. At AirAsia, we have a flat organization where anybody is open to reach out. 

In times of crisis or decision making, I encourage the team to manage the moment with an eye on the big picture. 


As a leader, do you measure performances during the crisis? If yes, what are the key parameters that are considered while measuring performances? 

We have an array of e-learning programs specially designed to meet the requirements of each of the departments. All of these programs have seen maximum participation by our Allstars. Each of the HODs have weekly/daily calls to review the action items of the day which have been designated to all members to assess the flow of work and help them in case they face any challenges.  This helps keep us a tab on the work flow during this lockdown. While we have e-trackers to monitor the engagement levels in every department, I make sure that HODs reach out to the Allstars who have been relatively less involved/engaged in their daily activities to review what we could do better to keep them motivated and active. 

I am fortunate to have a young and top notch leadership team who are also naturally hands-on with a futuristic outlook. In my opinion, a leader needs to be both a strategist and manager. 

COVID-19 has impacted the aviation industry immensely. What is going to be the biggest challenge for the aviation industry in 2020?

The biggest challenge will be to successfully address apprehensions around travel and adapt quickly and seamlessly to the new normal. We are very optimistic about the resurgence of travel as an essential need. People recognize the importance of travel for many reasons and have exhibited resilience and acceptance of the expected new norms that would come with travel. Air travel has been established as the safest and most hygienic form of long-distance transport, as the kind of precautions and preparedness Airports and airlines have planned and in place are not feasible for other transportation services to replicate easily. Given our geographical footprint, we have had the advantage of learning, recognizing emerging trends from other countries, and sharing best practices in the run-up to the Covid-19 crisis and the same principle puts us in an advantageous position with the resumption of airline operations as well.

What the post-COVID-19 world of work will look like for the aviation industry? 

The long-term outlook of the aviation and travel ecosystem continues to be bright. With every industry working hard to recover from this unprecedented situation at the earliest, the global demand for travel will build steadily and India will remain at the forefront of this growth. With most sectors relying heavily on air travel and the increased integration of the global economy, dependence on air travel will be critical as it is the safest and fastest means to commute. This will drive demand on our way to recovery from the economic downturn. 

A majority of countries across the globe are relaxing lockdown rules and pushing to reopen economies. A lot of us are pondering if Work from Home will become the new norm in most of the industries. Employees who are a part of operations will continue to report to work usually, however other teams may continue to work from home based on how the situation unfolds.

What changes have you brought in your daily routine to stay positive and productive during the lockdown? What is your one productivity hack?

Since the beginning of the lockdown I have invested 90 minutes every single morning in walking and some basic exercises. This has helped me keep fit and control my weight. Staying at home has ensured that one is only eating healthy and nutritious home food for all meals. Taking time out for one's hobbies - music, cooking and spending time with my kids helps me stay productive and focussed on work through the day.

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Topics: Leadership, #LeadTheWay, #COVID-19

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