Dutchman, Bert van der Stege is one of an increasing number of senior airline executives that are now bringing their experience to the airport sector. After strategy and sales and marketing roles at German flag carrier Lufthansa, he spent a three year period at the start of the decade in Africa as vice president planning and marketing at Arik Air in Nigeria and then as commercial director at RwandAir. In late 2013 he moved across to Canada to take up the position of vice president commercial at First Air, overseeing all commercial and revenue generating activities on a day-to-day basis as well as the strategic development and restructuring of the airline. He joined Halifax International Airport Authority in Oct-2016 where among his roles he is working to put Halifax Stanfield International Airport on airlines’ route maps.
What is your current job and and what three words best describe your role?
I am vice president and chief commercial officer at the Halifax International Airport Authority. My job is about being strategic, value-driven and always looking to answer a key question; is there a better way of doing things? How many words did you so say?
Where do you call home?
Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada
What does a typical day look like for you?
I’m sure everyone says this in the aviation industry, but there’s really no typical day and that’s what most of us love about it. I oversee all revenue generating activities, aeronautical and non-aeronautical, airport experience, public affairs, marketing & corporate communications, so every day is full of opportunities. I particularly enjoy working with passenger and cargo carriers to help Halifax Stanfield realise both passenger and export growth, something we’re very proud to say we achieved last year with record-setting numbers.
What are your main ambitions for the next 12 months in your role?
Our goal is to evolve our airport into a complementary hub – the ‘MAX’ hub – positioning Halifax as a Gateway to Canada, complementing existing eastern Canadian hubs. This involves marketing ourselves to airlines looking to implement new nonstop flights to Europe with feed from services in Canada and the United States using the latest technology of narrow-bodies such as the 737MAX. As we grow, we need to ensure we do so by building on what made us unique in offering a superior culture of service with all stakeholders and with virtues that have shaped us – being happy, helpful, courteous, kind and caring. It’s what we call the Stanfield Way.
What is the biggest obstacle currently influencing the airport business
The future of regional flying. Unless you can get feed with +70 seaters, we really have to re-think this business for the operating airlines, the airports and the communities affected given increased cost of operation, pilot shortages and a lack of suitable replacement aircraft <70 seats.
What’s the best and worst career advice you have been given?
Best? Think twice about whether you want to go into a senior leadership role. You have a significant amount of responsibility, lots of extra work and pressure, but you don’t necessarily get paid that much more. Exceptional advice, as it helped me realise I want to try and make a difference. Worst? The status quo is acceptable. That’s just not me. Never stop asking.
If you could switch jobs with someone, who would it be?
Outside of aviation, a minister of foreign affairs.
What does the aviation business mean to you?
It has enthralled me since I was young, played a central role in my life and it’s a passion I now share with my two young boys. I’m inculcating a love of travel, aeroplanes, airlines and airports in them. I’ve worked in the industry all my life and it’s fascinating how we all work together in supporting each other and growing tourism, trade, investment and immigration.
What book did you read last?
‘The Disruptors’ Feast’ by Frits van Paasschen, a fellow Dutchman and the former CEO of Starwood.
What are your three most used words/phrases?
What’s the story?, as said…, cheers.
If Hollywood made a movie about your life, who would you like to see cast as you?
Since being a teenager, I’ve been told I look like Matt Damon, which I don’t agree with by the way, but I guess it would have to be him. Funny story, I was in Asia immediately after 9/11, speaking to a large group of flight attendants about urgent restructuring now needed at the airline and no one took me serious, all just laughing saying Matt Damon was in the office. Funny? NO!
What is your favourite aircraft type (current or old)?
Can it be future too? I like many different types of aircraft each serving a purpose, but my favourite at this time is the B737MAX, as it’s supporting our growth strategy. With its range capabilities, attractive CASM opportunity to increase aircraft utilisation, this aircraft type is making it more feasible for us to benefit from our geographic position implementing our new brand tagline ‘connecting means the world’. In future, I look forward to the A321neoLR.
Window or aisle seat?
Window. I enjoy the view above the clouds or to see what’s happening when we’re on the ground.
Favourite flying tipple?
A nice cold beer.
Favourite travel spot? Or where would you like to go on a dream vacation
I don’t really have a favourite as there’s something to explore everywhere. In my travels I’ve been fortunate to meet with Inuit in the Arctic, tribes from Papua New Guinea or in remote places in Africa who all helped me see the world with different eyes showing me unique ways to solve problems. Travelling the world reminds me to look for what we have in common and not focus on differences.
Which four individuals, living or dead, would you like to eat dinner with the most?
I’d want it to be an inspiring and intriguing dinner, so I’d have to say Johann Sebastian Bach, Nelson Mandela, Orville Wright and my mum.
What do you do to relax?
A run allows me to unwind and relax.
What keeps you awake at night?
Our youngest son.
What’s your secret talent that no one knows about?
If I told you, then it would no longer be a secret.
People would be surprised if they knew?
I like to tickle the ivories. I invite everyone to come check out beautiful Halifax and ask me to play a few songs if you see a piano.
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