David Burgess, previously VP global GSE fleet management at Swissport, has been managing director of Bliss-Fox by Panus GSE for a few months now. Panus offers a wide range of GSE, including aircraft tugs, baggage tractors and water and lavatory service vehicles. Based at Panus Assembly’s facility in Chonburi, Thailand, Burgess has declared his vision for Bliss-Fox to be recognised by the aviation industry as a global leader in providing tailor-made GSE solutions with outstanding after-sales support. He tells us more about his new role…
When did you officially take up your new role, and can you outline the scope of your position?
I assumed the position as managing director of Bliss-Fox on 1 October, following two weeks of mandatory quarantine, having elected to take a major change of direction and join a GSE manufacturer after some 45 years in fleet management.
Bliss-Fox is a subsidiary business unit (BU) of Panus Assembly and as managing director I have full financial and operational accountability for the outputs of my BU. The Panus group has a matrix organisation, so I utilise many shared services that the other BUs also use, such as finance and accounting, purchasing and logistics, QHSE [quality, health, safety and environment management] and manufacturing.
But P&L [profit and loss] planning and performance, marketing, sales, the introduction of new products, product improvement, GSE rental, after-sales technical support and performance management sit firmly with my team and me.
Currently, the manufacturing staff are a shared service, so whilst I don’t ‘own’ the team I speak to the GSE production manager and visit the GSE production line daily. I of course have a vested interest in what they are manufacturing for me!
What was it that attracted you to this new position?
Timing played an important part in my decision to accept the offer, coming at a time of unprecedented crisis for the aviation sector. Following my departure from Swissport, I had intended to use my experience and expertise in a consulting role, but due to the Corona pandemic, opportunities were limited.
Also, I had been contemplating the merits of a move into manufacturing for the previous year or so because – after years of being a customer and managing large GSE fleets – I believed that I could bring a different perspective on GSE product development and support.
I have a Masters degree in engineering management that covered lean production methodologies and quality assurance in quite some detail, so I knew that was knowledge that could be well utilised in a GSE manufacturing environment.
Taking all these factors into consideration, plus being someone who’s motivated by a challenge, plus a CEO [of Panus GSE] that was committed to transformational change, I decided to accept the offer.
Do you think that your experience at senior management level of a global handler like Swissport gives you a unique insight into what is required of GSE and of a GSE manufacturer?
I believe that what I will bring to GSE manufacturing is the ‘voice of the customer’, something that in my view is often overlooked by manufacturers.
Selling a product to a customer is just the start of what should then develop into a transparent, co-operative, trusting working relationship – a partnership if you like. I know first-hand that one of the greatest frustrations of ground handlers is the length of time it takes to resolve technical and support issues. So, after-sales technical support has naturally become a huge focus for my team going forward.
I don’t for one minute underestimate the challenge of providing outstanding after-sales support and I don’t have a magic wand, but systematically we are addressing identified shortfalls in this important area to deliver a standard of service that our customers quite rightly expect.
Do you think that your contacts made over many years in the handling business will also be important for you in your new role?
Yes, very much so! Those who know me will know very well that I set very high expectations for both myself and my team. So, when I say that we will focus on the customer, that’s precisely what we shall do.
I want to build trust with my wide network of contacts; not just with me, but also with my team and our products.
I want to develop a high degree of confidence that we will deliver on our promises so that potential new customers will discuss their GSE requirements with Bliss-Fox.
Additionally, I aim to maintain the strong relationships that I developed with my contacts whom I worked with at the former International Air Transport Association (IATA) GSEE [Ground Support Equipment and Environment] technical group to further influence the development of GSE standards.
What other skills and experience do you feel you particularly bring to Bliss-Fox as a result of your years at Swissport, Qatar Aviation Services and long career in the British Army?
I’m confident that my 45 years of experience will bring strong leadership, unity of purpose, teamwork, effective communication and a deep desire for my team to succeed. On a more personal level, I will bring high energy and visible professionalism that I hope my team will imitate as we embark on a journey of continuous improvement (CI) and growth.
I know from past experience that an aligned approach will bring the unity of purpose that I mentioned and this will help achieve my declared vision for Bliss-Fox.
Finally, I’m conscious that the CI strategies and plans that I develop need to be pragmatic and achievable taking into account cultural and embedded mindset challenges – something that I’ve learned over many years working in multinational and multicultural environments worldwide.
How will you achieve your goal of getting Bliss-Fox recognised by the aviation industry as a global leader in its field?
Quite simply, this means putting the customer first and delivering against their expectations. Easy to say I know, but as a former customer I know just how important this is.
I want my management team in particular to put themselves in the shoes of the customer and to think how they would feel in various scenarios where their requirements were not met.
I want them to understand value from the customer’s perspective. I’ve communicated five guiding principles that I want my management team to think about in their daily dealings with customers. Of course we need to build well-designed, robust GSE that is safe, cost effective and fit for purpose in all respects, but we then need to provide highly effective long-term after-sales technical support.
GSE will always have technical issues – it’s how they’re resolved that’s important, and that’s what I’ve directed my team to focus on. It follows that if we’re able to consistently meet customer requirements for products, price and effective after-sales support then our brand reputation will grow, and sales growth will follow that.
This is an incredibly difficult time for the aviation industry, and for GSE manufacturers; is that fact affecting your plans and strategies for the near-term, if not the long-term?
It is indeed an incredibly difficult time for aviation and this has been factored into my five-year development plan.
For example, sales in 2021 will be extremely challenging, but out of adversity comes opportunity. Thus, I’ve set an agenda for this year that is focused on organisational structures, customer engagement (current and potential customers) and production quality improvement.
Thankfully, we have continued to receive orders from current and new customers, though – quite understandably – in lower volumes than we had planned for. However, this has given us some capacity to look at each stage of the production process and make improvements.
We have also initiated a customer survey so that we may consider feedback for implementation when the sector starts to recover later this year. I’ve mentioned only a couple of things that we shall focus on in 2021, but in essence it’s about setting the conditions for product development and growth from 2022 onwards.