Air Cargo Leaders: Lise-Marie Turpin, Neel Shah
Lise-Marie Turpin: Challenge meets opportunity
Assuming a new position in favorable economic times can be challenging, but starting a job at the brink of a global recession is entirely more taxing. Lise-Marie Turpin has experienced this difficult reality first hand.
Although Turpin joined Air Canada during the prolific mid-’90s after various stints with Air France, she didn’t assume her current role as managing director of Air Canada Cargo until 2008. She took over within weeks of the stock market collapse. Fortunately, Turpin says she had been accustomed to the cargo industry’s volatility from her past experiences.
“Since I had already worked on the cargo side before, it wasn’t exactly anything new,” she says. “I just had to make sure that everyone on the team understood that we were in a
down cycle and needed to make good use of that time to build a more solid base.” Turpin adds that the difficult year also provided her team with time to strategize. Business had slowed, so the group looked to maximize its product offerings to get ready for the uptick in business that followed the downturn.
Like many airlines, Air Canada’s passenger side receives much of the attention. Turpin says the carrier is known primarily as a passenger airline, but argues that airfreight is a key piece of the corporate puzzle. “Cargo contribution is critical to the profitability of most routes,” she explains. “Because of that, the airline sees cargo as a valuable part of the business.” The cargo part of the business has taken numerous hits lately. She points to the financial crises in the U.S. and the eurozone as driving up fuel prices and affecting trade volumes. Not that Air Canada Cargo isn’t able to withstand such challenges, Turpin says. “We’re watching what’s happening around the world,” she says, “but we still have to make sure that, regardless of what’s going on, we’re able to keep a step ahead and still deliver the results that our customers expect from us.”
The March tsunami and earthquake in Japan also slowed airfreight operations. In addition to rerouting their fleets, Air Canada Cargo reduced capacity to compensate for the weak export volumes out of the Asia-Pacific, Turpin reveals. “The events in Japan certainly threw all of us a curveball,” she says. “Our routes quickly resumed back to normal, though.” Unfortunately, the global airfreight sector hasn’t bounced back quite as fast, and Turpin characterizes 2011 as a year “where everything cooled down.” Although global passenger volumes haven’t softened as much as airfreight, Turpin expects them to be impacted. After all, she maintains, air cargo activity is considered to be an early indicator of economic health.
Turpin knows that 2012 could be equally challenging, but she’s already anticipating the tough choices ahead. Key to guiding Air Canada Cargo down a tough road will be determining which actions the carrier must take to maintain its market share and developing technologies to streamline its customer service operations, Turpin says. For example, the carrier will be relying on its cool-chain offerings to attract new business. Last year, Air Canada Cargo rolled out its AC Absolute and AC Pharmacair solutions, which built off the success of its AC Cool temperature-controlled service. Turpin also expects a new tool that provides real-time information for the dispatch of line-haul activities to improve efficiencies in the operation.
Either way, Turpin promises to be Air Canada Cargo’s strongest advocate amid the economic turmoil. And if her experience taking over as managing director during a global recession is any indication of what’s to come, she’s up for the challenge.