Air Transport World

South African airways returns to profitability.

Johannesburg--"MBWA--management by walking around--is a big part of my management philosophy," is how Gert van der Veer explains why he is constantly on the move. ATW caught the chief executive in his office in Airways Towers, the headquarters building of South African Airways, between "walkarounds." Relaxing over his favorite beverage, an aromatic South African caffeine- and tannin-free "tonic tea," he discussed why since taking over as SAA's top man on Oct. 1, 1983, he has spent as much time as possible with staff at their workplaces in South Africa and abroad.

"The airline business is about people and passengers--not just about flying, reservations, ticketing or maintenance--and therefore it is terribly important the CEO pay special attention to keeping in contact with personnel who have contact with passengers," he said. To instill in staff the importance of the passenger, van der Veer initiated a motivation program, "You Make the Difference," with classes that he often addresses personally. Whenever he meets with staff he makes a point of asking them what they think the airline should be doing.

When van der Veer took over as CEO in 1983, he was no stranger to SAA, having worked in South African Transport Services (SATS), which is responsible for the nation's state-owned surface and air transport enterprises, since graduating from university in 1959 as an electrical engineer. He was data processing manager for eight years and ended his SATS career as assistant general manager (operating). He also is no stranger to the world outside South Africa, having spent the first 22 years of his life in his native Netherlands.

More product-oriented

"Drastic" is the adjective van der Veer uses to describe the changes he has made in the organization of SAA. …

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