07 November 2006
Qatar Airways boss is impressive
I went to a Qatar Airways press conference yesterday at World Travel Market. Oh the whole I wish I hadn't. It started 20 minutes late and went on too long (time is precious at World Travel Market, especially on the first day) and had no real news value.
But I didn't come away entirely empty-handed.
The CEO of Qatar Airways, Akbar Al Baker, flanked by his two senior managers did all the talking (paraphrase: "we're continuing to expand with a new terminal building, new flights to Nigeria, Tanzania, Vietnam, New York, and Bali... and some other places I can't tell you about") and then took questions from the floor.
Not surprisingly Malcolm Ginsberg, a long-standing aviation journalist (I remember him when he was with Brymon Airways back in the eighties) who knows his way around the aviation industry better than I know the way to my own flat, piled in first with a direct question about how the delayed delivery of their Airbus A380 superjumbos was messing them about.
A couple of other specialist journalists also asked some other detailed questions, all of which Mr Al Baker fielded efficiently and politely, not giving much away.
Then some old duffer business journo took the mic and began banging on about a journey he had just made with Qatar Airlines to an economic forum in Singapore. It wasn't a question. It was list of complaints about the service he got...
He didn't get the veggie meal he ordered.
He and his fellow passengers where held up on landside at Changi airport on the return journey, while passengers from other airlines were able to go through to the "more interesting" airside.
There had been no response to the application form for frequent flyer membership (Burgundy cardholder) that he filled in and gave to a cabin attendant.
Those seated around me exchanged looks and quietly groaned. This was obviously payback time because he hadn't got the treatment he thought he deserved, but to the rest of us it was an abuse of his position as a journalist, our role as journalists, and our time.
Most CEOs in that situation, even if they hadn't detected the frisson of annoyance that ran through the room, would have summarily dealt with the questioner and moved on.
But not Akbar Al Baker. He very politely pandered to the man's ego, cleverly answering each point in detail and using each to expand on aspects of the business.
It was an impressive performance. Not least because 10 minutes and several questions later a note was passed to him and he was able to return to the old fart and joke that he could prove the efficiency of his staff because in those few minutes they had checked with the head office in Doha and discovered that his application for a Burgundy card had indeed been processed but that the hapless journo had applied under an old address. The card had been sent there.
Al Baker - "Dix Points"
Journo - "Nil Points"
It was an impressive demonstration of how to turn an awkward question to your own advantage and win over your audience at the same time.