On Tuesday, India’s full-service carrier Vistara announced that the company’s CEO Leslie Thng will move to Singapore Airlines from January 1, 2022. The airline’s CCO (Chief Commercial Officer) Vinod Kannan will replace Thng as the new CEO. The announcement comes just days before the Tata Group, a majority shareholder of Vistara, is supposed to place a final bid in an attempt to acquire the national carrier Air India.
New role at Singapore Airlines
After serving as Vistara’s CEO for more than four years, Leslie will take up a senior appointment at Singapore Airlines starting January 1, 2022. Vistara, a joint venture between Tata Sons and Singapore Airlines, has found Thng’s successor in the company’s present CCO, Vinod Kannan, who will take charge as the CEO next year.
Regarding this major shift in senior management, Vistara’s Chairman Bhaskar Bhat said,
“Leslie has led the airline through a significant phase, with the start of international operations and the entry into service of various aircraft including the Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner. Vinod will lead Vistara in its next phase of growth, building on the strong foundation laid by Leslie. This Company continues to benefit from the strong commitment of the two partners Tata Sons and Singapore Airlines to Vistara.”
Vinod Kannan to take charge
Kannan comes with years of airline experience. Degree educated in Business Management from UCLA, he joined Singapore Airlines in 2001, where he held various senior level positions, including serving as the Chief Commercial Officer for Scoot, a budget airline and subsidiary of SIA. He handled global network planning of the SIA Group and has experience running operations in Indonesia, Italy, and Saudi Arabia.
— ET NOW (@ETNOWlive) September 14, 2021
Kannan joined Vistara in 2019 as Chief Strategy Officer and currently heads key departments, including Network Planning, Revenue Management, Marketing, Customer Experience, and Cabin Service functions.
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Kannan has his work cut out for him. He takes charge of an airline that hasn’t turned a profit since its inception, and the pandemic hasn’t made things any easier. Several of the airline’s ambitious plans, including route expansion to the US are currently in the doldrums.
As the new CEO, Kannan’s priority will be to minimize loss and eventually move Vistara in a direction where it becomes a profitable enterprise. Running a full-service carrier in an extremely price-sensitive Indian market is no small task. The toppling of Kingfisher Airlines and Jet Airways by ultra-competitive low-cost carriers has become a cautionary tale for others and a template for how not to run a full-service airline in India.
Kannan, however, is optimistic about Vistara’s growth. In a recent interview with BusinessLine, he said he was hopeful that Vistara would see pre-Covid numbers by the end of the calendar year, fuelled by the festive season in India. He did add that such plans will only material if there are no more deadly COVID waves. While he remained tight-lipped on the Air India issue, Kannan displayed full confidence in the Vistara brand even as new airlines seek to enter the Indian market. He said,
“As for Vistara, I would say yes, we do have an edge. In terms of what kind of customers we are targeting, our international network, a modern fleet. Many soft features make us different like wifi, charging ports, meals, customer service, and the crew’s service on board.”
New direction for Vistara?
It’ll be interesting to see what new perspective Vinod Kannan brings when he steps in as the carrier’s CEO next year. The key announcement of his leadership role also comes at an interesting time when the Tata Group plans to place a bid to purchase Air India. We could be reading too much into the coincidence, so it’ll be interesting to see how the deal pans out for Vistara.
Here’s hoping that better days await for the airline and Kannan steers it towards a profitable future.