IAG Cargo’s CEO Lynne Embleton

Lynne Embleton, CEO, IAG CargoCan you talk me through your career history?

I studied maths at university but didn’t want to be an accountant, so I then did a masters in operational research which brings maths and business together. That involved a three-week placement, which I did at British Airways. It was my first insight into aviation and I really enjoyed it. So I joined BA after graduating and have remained in the industry ever since. You never get bored!

I’ve been in this role for almost 2 years and before that I was BA’s director of strategy, responsible for areas such as route network, alliances and joint businesses. I also spent a couple of years as managing director for BA’s business at Gatwick… my first 24/7 customer service and operations role.

Before joining IAG Cargo I hadn’t been close to the logistics side of the industry, so the chance to lead a B2B business – especially at a time when air freight is changing so much – was incredibly appealing.

How has the transition been to the cargo business?

I’ve thoroughly enjoyed it. The business has real purpose – we carry vital cancer drugs, vaccines, fruit, fish and more. It’s dynamic too – the demand and flow of air freight is based on business cycles, economies, exchange rates and even the weather.

It’s a complex business and suits people who want a challenge, whether across commercial or operations, processes or digital. There is so much potential. One early observation was that this part of the industry doesn’t get the attention it deserves when it comes to attracting talent.

Only 15 per cent of top level supply chain positions are filled by women. But in IAG Cargo’s senior leadership roles, gender representation is balanced. What do you think the company has done well to achieve this?

Diversity is a topic that at group level is very important to us. At IAG Cargo our executive leadership team gender ratio is 50:50 which is unusual not only for logistics but also aviation. But diversity goes far further than gender. It’s important that we get this right across the board, from ensuring we have people from all backgrounds, to age, sexuality and disability. One of the things we’ve done is to consciously recruit on potential rather than just proven experience. We’ve also broadened our search and we’ve recently brought in fabulous people from sectors like banking, telecommunications and manufacturing. And that mix of new talent coupled with the existing experience here has created an exciting combination. We’ve got a lot further to go but we’re making progress in the right direction.

What do you think the industry can do to encourage more women to join?

This is a great place to work. It’s got purpose, can be challenging and offers opportunities to change things. I think we need to get that message out there. Maybe logistics isn’t front of mind for female talent, but it should be. Having come into it myself I have seen how much fun it can be, I’d hope people would want to join us.

What do you think it takes to get to the top of an industry like logistics?

No idea! Aviation, air freight, cargo – they’re complex areas. I suppose I’ve always turned up to work wanting to make a difference, willing to tackle tricky issues and wanting to work with others to improve the strength of the business. That approach seems to have worked for me!

Do you have any advice for female grads who might be looking into sector?

We have grads across the business who find challenging roles in everything from operations, tech, marketing and sales. And we would welcome many more. The sector has a lot to offer – come and join us.

What areas of growth in the business are you most excited about?

The most visible programme that will unlock growth is our new Premia building. That’s growth in terms of tonnage, and we’re making investment in Madrid too with new facilities. But I’m equally excited about improving the way we do pricing in revenue management, bringing AI and analytics into that area, and about our new CRM tool, which will get us closer to customers. We’re looking at the operation and instilling new, smarter ways of working, often using technology that will really make a difference.

What’s your day-to-day like?

It’s hugely varied – from welcoming our new graduate intakes to listening to customers.  This week we held our Annual Colleague Meeting where team members from around the world gathered to discuss our plans, priorities and projects for the year ahead.

Favourite and least favourite parts of the job?

I love hearing about what we carry. Last week, for example, we carried wild dogs and a Komodo dragon (not in the same box!). It’s not an understatement to say what we do fuels economies, trade and supports jobs. Our people are great and it’s wonderful to feel that we’re making the business stronger, especially with the investment we’re making in infrastructure, tech and talent. I find all of that incredibly motivating and definitely worth getting out of bed for.

Least favourite is probably the pace of change when it comes to some industry-wide issues such as digitalisation and e-freight. I’d like instantaneous change but I have to accept that it won’t happen overnight.

Where did work last take you on your travels?

The USA and Spain – we spent some valuable time with key partners and customers recently. I also attend meetings with other parts of the IAG group, so end up travelling quite a bit.

And for a holiday?

Recently I’ve been to Grand Cayman in the Caribbean. It’s a good family destination – turtles, iguanas, sting rays and water sports. Good fun and there’s some impressive conservation work there which was great to see.