Charita Leelayudth shares her professional journey, how THAI Smile Airways will thrive disruption & advancing leadership opportunities for women. She also touches upon changes in the aviation industry—clearly it is the presentation of Digital Transformation—how it will be introduced and applied to all services. We also discuss why the ability to direct & push the airline business to survive & succeed is most important—irrespective of gender or level of work.
Accenture Travel: You are the Acting CEO of THAI Smile Airways. Tell us about how you propelled your flight to the top and what fuels your passion for Aviation?
Charita Leelayudth: I take pride in achieving the position of Acting Chief Executive officer of THAI Smile, after being in the airline business for more than 30 years. I started with Thai Airways international, and I was the CFO of THAI Smile in my previous role. My work life has created experiences and opportunities to comprehensively learn about the airline industry.
My operation plans and policies are not based on profit and loss alone, but take into account a number of factors to support effective decision making for the organization. The policy of being an eco-efficiency organization, makes us an organization that gives it back to society by reducing ecological damage to a minimum. Moreover, we use community products and support the government sector to promote tourism in secondary provinces that are among our destinations as well. From my experience in the field of airline internal audit of more than ten years, the learnings can be adapted to the airline business which is highly competitive.
THAI Smile, as the subsidiary of Thai Airways international benefits from the rub-off of its aura. THAI Smile has a vision to drive its policy in line with Thai Airways International, such as flight planning, sales and marketing which requires collaborations and right balance in order to grow together. Advancing to the top position is a good opportunity to leverage my previous experience as CFO of THAI Smile to handle finance, human resources and procurement and drive operations effectively.
In the airline business, service is the key word, therefore, human resource management and skills are important. Our responsibilities start from developing human resources—recruitment, training and other measures. To make customers happy the service staff must be happy and provide service from the heart. The image of staff providing ground services and on- board services appears more vivid and more fun via colours. Moreover, the happiness of our customers/passengers is a good driver for us to create new things, offer services that meet their needs and exceed their expectations, and deliver happiness and smiles in all our flights.
AT: You are one of the rare women CEOs of an Airline. How can airlines advance to equal leadership and further increase the number of women CEOs and CXOs at Airlines?
CL: I believe in equal ability regardless of gender. In addition, the world and society accept the advancement of women to the highest role in various industries. It is the same for aviation. I think no matter the gender or the level of work, the most important thing is solely the ability to direct and push the airline business amongst high competition to survive and succeed. And I am confident that the success of any entity requires smooth orchestration between human resources and technology.
For my working style I put the focus on work and straightforward communication with express management guidelines, listen to information and make a decision together with my team. We then, proceed as agreed and make it happen as planned. In particular, the position of the CEO must bear all the consequences either disastrous or economic. Therefore, one must rely on appropriate risk management, and 360 degrees follow ups in an effort to reach the best solution.
AT: Thailand’s Ministry of tourism expects a record 41.1 million foreign tourists in the country. This amounts to 60 percent of the country's population, and even greater than the entire population of Canada. What makes Thailand one of Asia’s popular tourist destinations?
CL: Tourist spots—Thailand has many tourist attractions throughout the country and has a wide variety of nature, historical sites, historical tourist excursions, museums and locations for modern entertainment.
Culture, food, cost of living- Thailand has an old and unique culture combined with modernization and innovation that keeps pace with the changing world. This is the perfect mix and match in a society. Thai food is diverse, has a distinctive flavor and is also open to accepting international food from every corner of the world. Cost of living in Thailand is not too high either.
There is excellence in service at government agencies that are directly responsible for tourism. There is also a policy to continuously promote tourism and new tourist destinations, including new travel patterns and trends, good partners at international level. In the private sector airline, restaurants, hotels, travel firms/agents their operations meet the needs of tourists. At a community level, Thai people or locals in each province or region offer good hospitality.
AT: As Acting CEO of THAI Smile Airways what are some of the disruptive megatrends you see facing the airline? And your plans to make THAI Smile thrive amongst these disruptive forces?
CL: What will change the aviation industry clearly is the presentation of Digital Transformation—how it will be introduced and applied to all services ranging from travel planning, booking, ticketing, managing your own travel and in-flight services. In particular, increasing more comfort and entertainment or travelers. THAI Smile Airways is ready to deliver new services with the Bring Your Own Devices (BYOD) format, together with the creation of a new website in order to penetrate mobile users. We will be then the first airline to proactively activate digital platform, and respond to the norms clearly, such as E-tax Invoice, etc.
AT: What kind of a traveler are you?
CL: I do not have much time to relax, as most of my time is contributed to work. If I plan to travel, my kids are assigned to come up with a family travel plan, whether natural destinations or historical sites. This provides a good opportunity to spend good quality time together.
In addition, we choose travel option with full service, which is comfortable, worthwhile, useful and meets our requirements. Like the services of THAI Smile an airline that offers Full Service, focuses on excellent service standards, offers value of money, right pricing, and provides maximum comfort for passengers.
AT: What is your favorite travel destination?
CL: My very first priority destination would be Narathiwat, one of the most peaceful and charming destinations. Narathiwat has perfect combination of plentifully forests and wonderful beaches with highly unique attractions to explore from many perspectives. The city itself becomes a place of grace with the beauty of the Muslim culture and long heritage.
By the way, currently, THAI Smile offers 10 domestic routes including Chiang Mai, Phuket, Khon Kaen, Chiang Rai, Hat Yai, Ubon Ratchathani, Udon Thani, Surat Thani, Narathiwat and Krabi. In addition, THAI Smile also provides cross region route between Chiang Mai and Phuket, along with 19 international routes to Yangon, Mandalay, Siem Reap, Phnom Penh, Vientiane, Luang Prabang, Kuala Lumpur, Penang, Jaipur, Lucknow, Gaya, Varanasi, Mumbai, Zhengzhou, Chongqing, Changsha, Guangzhou, Kaohsiung and Hong Kong.