Chief Financial Officer Lewis Girdwood

10 Mins with LewisCould you des
cribe your career history?

I’ve worked across a number of different industries, but I believe the finance function of a company is where you can make a real difference. I first started out in internal audit, where I got a solid grounding in finance, before moving into data telecommunications where my company did the roll-out of the National Lottery terminals when it was first launched. I then transitioned into the food industry working in project management, capital investments and commercial finance. You might know Hovis’ Best of Both loaf, which I’m happy to say I helped launch!

I then moved into a venture capital owned company that was looking to build scale through acquiring smaller food companies, but after the banking crisis hit, I spent two years working on reforecasting the business to support refinancing. Then, out of the blue, I got a call to see if I wanted to join easyJet. It was exciting and new – some of the projects I was involved in included the acquisition of the Neo fleet and the introduction of allocated seating. The role for CFO at IAG Cargo then came up, which played really well into my food industry experience in terms of warehousing, and of course the airline side too. I really liked the scope of opportunities available, and the ability that we have to challenge the status quo.

What’s your day-to-day like?

My days are pretty full-on, between 9am and 5pm I spend my time in everything from decision-making forums to one to ones. I usually come in for around 7am and grab the first few hours to answer emails before the day starts, then I’m usually out by 5.30pm.

What are some of challenges you come up against?

The terminology challenge! I thought passenger had a lot of acronyms and jargon, but cargo might pip them to the post. You get used to it though, and the nature of the business is what I love – it’s very fast-moving, constantly changing and is fundamentally linked into global trade and commerce.

In which regions is IAG Cargo performing well?

Since about March 2017, Asia has been doing remarkably well. We had a mad craze for fidget spinners coming from China, and we’ve seen a lot of development out of Hong Kong, as well as India with their pharmaceuticals industry, which has fed in well to our Constant Climate and Critical products. We have also seen the European and UK and Ireland regions performing well, with our focus on premium and critical products as well as general cargo.

Are there any trends that we’re seeing from customers?

I think we’re seeing a willingness from businesses to invest in air cargo when they see the need for and benefit from it. Shortened supply chains and the significant reduction of delays and risk is what air cargo offers. It is something fashion brands have really jumped on, and now they are shipping a lot more by air, not sea, because the speed to market is what’s important to them right now. The success of our critical product being a prime example of this.

We are finding customers are willing to commit more to avoid the capacity crunch they experienced last year and operational excellence is being given higher relevance when making carrier choices and shippers and forwarders are looking for carriers that add value to their business, not just move boxes for them.

What’s IAG Cargo’s five-year plan to drive growth?

We’re investing heavily in the business with a new warehouse in London coming live in 2019; and we’re investing in technology like trackers, automation, as well as making efforts to grow our premium product offering.

What are some of your favourite and least favourite parts of the job?

Seeing and feeling the business change is so rewarding, like during our brand relaunch this year. Some of the difficult parts are making tough decisions that the business needs in order to go in the right direction and be ahead of our competitors.

Where did work last take you on your travels?

Valencia – the senior management team last visited one of our major retail food customers, looking at the company’s innovation investment, such as in-store concepts and freezer technology. It was fascinating to see how much they invest in the technology to get the right answers for their consumers.

And for pleasure?

I went to Tokyo with my kids – I’d never been, and I would say to anyone who hasn’t – go. It’s different to anywhere I’ve been before and it was just remarkable.