Newly appointed Head of Sales Darren Peek gives us the lowdown on leading in a crisis, charter growth during lockdown and getting vaccines where they need to be…
Could you talk about your career trajectory at BA and IAG?
Growing up in Windsor near London Heathrow, my fascination with aviation started when I was a boy, seeing 747s taking off and landing overhead and wondering what it would be like to work at the airport. I went through my early years thinking, ‘this really excites me’, so when the opportunity presented itself, I jumped at the chance join to British Airways.
My early roles were in passenger sales and I was lucky enough to be in a UK team looking after tour and cruise operators. With the airline, I progressed through the ranks of account management, to sales management and then commercial management.
The opportunity to work overseas with BA came up – firstly as a commercial manager in Belgrade in Serbia, though this was cut short because of the NATO intervention over Kosovo. My second posting, as Area Commercial Manager, was in Turkey, which had just suffered a massive earthquake, followed by Prague in 2002, where I looked after commercial teams in eastern and central Europe as well as across North Africa. At the time, the Czech Republic was experiencing its worst floods in 200 years and I got bit of a reputation for being a “manager of crisis zones”, so you could argue that I’m in a good position to manage the current crisis.
I joined IAG Cargo in 2011 heading up Product and in 2014 I moved across to the Global Key Account team. In 2017, the opportunity to look after Europe came up, after which time managing Africa as a region was then integrated into the role. I was then promoted to Head of Sales in October of this year.
How will your crisis experience inform your decisions going forward?
The requirement to always “keep a cool head” is of course crucial, but I think the knowledge that I’ve gained during the time that I’ve spent working for both the passenger and cargo side of the business, will be an asset. I’m naturally competitive and try to look for opportunities in any challenges that we’re facing. For instance, during the crisis in Serbia, there was a lot of UN movement in Kosovo via Macedonia. So, we put together a business case to seize a revenue stream by introducing new flights to Skopje, which performed well because of the increased movement of aid workers, UN troops, political bodies in and out of the capital. It was a successful launch that was put together in six weeks.
We’ve seen similar agility during the pandemic, where IAG Cargo adapted its operation to accommodate cargo-only flights and charters, including the first PPE charters back in March. In a crisis, you can either shut up shop and give up, or go all out to find solutions.
How do you plan to grow the business?
With lockdown restrictions around the world constantly changing, our response to the crisis has to as well. Currently, we are operating a lot of cargo-only flying and private charters. We started with PPE charters and quickly grew into commercial charter requests including for automotive parts and pharmaceutical products. Those two sectors have enormous potential, whether because of our specialist Constant Climate product, or our network, particularly with extensive coverage of North and South America. We need to continue to be able to offer our customers the same flexibility and creative solutions as we move into 2021. It’s great that we have a team with the experience and professionalism to be able to do this.
News of the Covid-19 vaccine is on everyone’s lips. What distribution infrastructure is in place for when it becomes readily available?
We have dedicated pharmaceutical facilities in Madrid, Dublin and London, which are certified according to their national regulatory requirements. We also have dedicated Constant Climate specialists, responsible for the integrity of the products in transit and who monitor them closely, as well as sales specialists, who understand specific customer needs and have specialist knowledge of customer products. Our success in protecting pharmaceuticals is supported by our network, getting vaccines to their destinations as soon as possible, with effective temperature management on-board. That’s one of our key strengths.
See IAG Cargo’s complete widebody network here.