Flying High with Mittu Chandilya, AirAsia India

Young Indians Mysuru and JSS CMS hosted Mittu Chandilya, CEO AirAsia India on 22nd Jan 2016. Here is the summary.

Mittu’s grandparents were from the extremes. One was a freedom fighter, other worked for a British Bank!

He is from a middle-class family with parents from Chennai and Bengaluru. From the beginning, the emphasis at home was on hard work and education. His mom was into modelling in her early days and subsequently entered the service industry. She worked for ITC and Oberoi. His dad is an IIT, IIM alumnus.

As the family had to move to Africa, Mittu studied at the Rishi Valley school from his 9th to 16th year. His roots are in the Krishnamurti way. He then moved to the US for further studies on a tennis scholarship. He was never a topper but was always curious. Due to his stay at the boarding school, he always wanted to be a good parent, everything else was just a means to an end.

He passed out with specializations in Finance, Marketing and Supply Chain Management.

While still at school, he invented a device which could detect the syrup level in the fountain soda dispenser. He was awarded a patent for this device. He later sold it to Coca-Cola. His first job was with Ingersoll Rand, a hardcore engineering company. He oversaw three global acquisitions. He was instrumental in moving three plants to Mexico, by which the division survived. He did his MBA from INSEAD in France and Singapore.

His first job was with Ingersoll Rand, a hardcore engineering company. He oversaw three global acquisitions. He was instrumental in moving three plants to Mexico, by which the division survived. He did his MBA from INSEAD in France and Singapore.

When Air Asia contacted him to start Indian operations, they partnered with the Tatas, one of the most ethical business groups in the world. They had no business plan, only loose qualitative goals. They wanted to build a true low-cost airline, changing the way Indians fly. They also wanted to influence the way the policies are set and develop infrastructure.

He started AirAsia India from scratch as the employee no. 1. Today they are 300+ people with 6 aircraft. He believes his employees are his no.1 priority. Happy employees mean happy company. He works as a baggage carrier, toilet cleaner and all such odd jobs, to lead by example. No job is too trivial. He believes in the greater good and the team winning.

There was a hard push back by competitors. As soon as they announced a route, competitors would follow suit and introduce a fare war. Air Asia India took the hard route, building up capacities and team ground up. 70% of their employees are from the non-airline background. Mittu likes street-fighters spirited people. He invests in hard working people. Aviation is a tough market, with its shares of ups and downs. Only this fighting spirit keeps the team going. No point in investing in ship jumpers. We can train people, but can’t change their attitude.

Mittu believes in always taking the hard way. It makes you tougher. Always know your costs. Be a ruthless negotiator.

When it was time to finalise the hotels for the cabin crew, they took the principled route to go with whoever gave the best rates. Don’t be political. Always have the interests of the venture above emotions. Don’t be safe. Step out. Take the risk. Take the road no one takes. Manage the expectations of your shareholders. Never be discouraged. Always have the startup mentality. Extend every rupee. There will always be competitors with bigger purses.

Keep your costs low and class high.

Till date AirAsia has invested around $ 30Mn and are very careful of the cash burn. Don’t succumb to shortcuts. Don’t burn cash as if it is available freely.

Pace yourself smartly. Know the regulations. There is no restriction for foreign airlines coming in, why should there be regulations for flying out? It is like boxing blindfolded with your hands tied!

Mittu has met PM Modi four times to update on the aviation sector. The PM is fully aware of the situation. He goes with the attitude to help the PM.

No other country levies the tax on ATF. We have taxes up to 30% on ATF here. Fuel constitutes 54% of their cost. There is an increased competition among smaller airports. For example, Puttaparthi(Andhra Pradesh) is offering a 1% tax on ATF. The way the ATF is priced in India is very opaque. There are monopolies of the state in this sector.

They had to shift their base from Chennai to Bengaluru. They use Bengaluru as a gateway to South India, promoting Mysore and Kerala as tourist hubs. AirAsia is investing in unique routes. Bengaluru-Jaipur, Bengaluru-Chandigarh, Pune-Jaipur etc They want to be the no.1 player in all the routes they fly.

Always play to your strength.

Mittu shared his thoughts on controllable and uncontrollable costs. He believes AirAsia will be bigger than Indigo once there is clarity on the 5/20 rule. Never compromise on quality. They have the lowest baggage damages. He believes in making the working capital work. Never doubt your abilities. People will gravitate towards you if you stay true to your vision. Believers will come. Keep your team motivated. Tell them each of their jobs are important. Never show your tensions/burdens to the team.

Mittu has always been outspoken about the aviation sector. Only 10% of Indians fly. 60% of the market is the Mumbai-Delhi route. The incumbent airlines have the best time slots.

For every one rupee spent on aviation, there are 12 rupees spent on tourism. We need to push and encourage the sector. They share their look, feel and branding with their Malaysian parent. All other things had to be customized for Indian tastes. 80% of the flyers prefer vegetarian food.

They have the fastest turnaround time of 25 minutes. Their planes are flying 20-21 of the 24 hours. You will rarely see the AirAsia flight in those still images of airports. Planes are built to fly.

Mysuru has a huge potential of tourism. The heritage value is unparalleled. Along with Goa and Agra, this is a must visit place for any India bound traveller. We just need a 1000m of the runway. The ideal way is for the national highway to go below the runway. Changi airport, Singapore has a similar setup.


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