Vistara chief commercial officer Sanjiv Kapoor resigns, Vinod Kannan named as replacement

The Tata Group airline said in a statement that after Sanjiv Kapoor's resignation, Chief Strategy Officer of Vistara, Vinod Kannan, will take over as the new CCO of the company.

Vistara chief commercial officer Sanjiv Kapoor resigns, Vinod Kannan named as replacement

Vistara chief commercial officer (CCO) Sanjiv Kapoor on Monday (December 16) resigned from his position, effective December 31, 2019. The Tata Group airline said in a statement that Chief Strategy Officer of Vistara, Vinod Kannan, will take over as the new CCO of the company.

“As part of the transition process since Mr. Kapoor’s resignation, some of the portfolios had been moved under Mr. Kannan’s leadership, while some are still in the movement process," Vistara said. Tata Sons has 51% stake in the budget carrier, while the remaining 49% stake is with Singapore Airlines. Notably, Tata Sons owns 51% stake in AirAsia India too.

Kapoor started his carrier in aviation industry with Northwest Airlines in the US in 1997. He is credicted with playing an important role in expanding Vistara in the last three years. Kapoor has also worked in Bain and Company, and Temasek Holdings.

Kapoor said in his resignation letter trhat he was fascinated with aviation industry since his childhood and he used to draw aircraft with wheels when he was in Class 1.

Here's the full text of Sanjiv Kapoor's resignation letter:

Dear Vistara family,

(This is a slightly long and very personal note. So please bear with me!)

Since I was a child, the aviation industry has fascinated me. I have memories in Class 1, of drawing aircraft with wheels, and then erasing the wheels after I would imagine the aircraft has taken off. As a young child I idolized JRD Tata, and poured over all of the marketing materials of the Air India of that era, including a lovely colour booklet Mr Tata had released to welcome the first 5 Boeing 747s, each one with a unique and distinctive interior, with cabin crew wearing equally elegant and distinctive uniforms.  I laughed over the ads and jokes written by the one and only Bobby Kooka, relishing every word. I still remember my first 747 flight, from Bombay to Frankfurt, in 1977 aboard Emperor Rajendra Chola. JRD was still the Chairman of Air India then, and everything about him and the airline exuded sheer class! I made up my mind at an early age that aviation would form a major part of my life. When I was in Class 5 or 6, I created my own imaginary airline, “East India Airways”, with a livery modeled on the Air India of that era, but with an imaginary route network that rivalled even Pan Am, but hubbed in Calcutta! 

JRD Tata was, and remains my idol. JRD was sheer class, but also had a naughty sense of humour. Though a perfectionist driven by passion (he used to instruct his pilots to not land early, as “on-time is on-time, neither late nor early”), he did not take himself too seriously. That warmth, charm, and naughtiness permeated the airline during his era. I remember an early 1970s Air India ad that showed a beguiling air hostess (as they were called in those days), encouraging business travellers to “Be Unfaithful” the next time they flew from London to New York.  The fine print of course clarified that the advice to be unfaithful referred only to their choice of airline, to choose Air India instead of British Airways or Pan Am! Classic JRD + Bobby Kooka! JRD’s airline was simply in a league of its own! JRD also understood that hardware and technical prowess alone (the aircraft, network, engineering, operations, pricing, etc), though essential and critical ingredients, was not enough to succeed, the software (culture, service, branding, personality, respect, trust, and open communications) layered atop the hardware is what really made the difference between successful enterprises and the also-rans. He believed strongly in the philosophy “small things make a big difference”, proof-reading every word in every ad that Air India issued, and making meticulous and detailed notes on every flight he took, on how Air India could do even better. He and the Tatas always believed in standing up for one’s staff, firm believes in the adage there are only two kinds of staff – those that take care of customers, and those that take care of those who take care of customers. If we get this right, we win over the right kids of customers and secure our future. This is the inspiration behind my recent “cabin crew are human too” tweet that got a lot of attention globally, with many commenting that this was an example of how the Tatas sand by their staff when they need to.

Life has been good to me in that I have been one of the lucky few that managed to pursue his or her passion as a career, both as a management consultant focused on airlines for several years, and directly with the airline industry. I came back to India, probably the toughest aviation market in the world with high costs, low yields, bruising competition, and severe infrastructure constraints, after having worked many years outside, to take on the reins of a struggling SpiceJet in November 2013. We saw it through a tumultuous period when oil prices were at USD120+, and nursed it through a bruising period through a cultural, operational, and brand transformation, to change of ownership and return to profits by early 2015. In the process we changed the industry fundamentally by focusing on filling our planes through demand stimulation as an empty seat is revenue lost forever– was much criticized then but is something that is now taken for granted to maximize revenues (if done right). We also brought the heart and a lot of colour back to flying, both figuratively and literally (through the infamous Holi dance, which resulted in sales going thru the roof!). Throughout the tough period when we were struggling for survival due to a cash crunch, the erstwhile promoters told me “Sanjiv – whatever you do, please make sure the staff are paid.  Return aircraft if you must but pay the staff”. It is this that made the difference and saw SpiceJet resume ops after suspending them for a day almost 4 years ago to the day – we could resume because the staff, many of whom had been abused and manhandled the previous day, returned to work the next day. Because they never gave up hope!

Job done at SpiceJet after ownership change and return to profitability, I came to Vistara – the airline that was created to carry forth the legacy of my idol, JRD Tata – in March 2016. The last almost 4 years have been fantastic for me at Vistara, and I am proud to have seen and helped the airline grow from 9 aircraft and 45 flights a day to 39 aircraft and over 200 flights a day in that period, outperforming the industry in key revenue, operational, and customer service metrics and winning every possible accolade while expanding from 12 stations to 34, and launching international, and while forging partnerships with some of the most hallowed names in the global airline industry. This week, we will also reach the milestone of flying our 20 millionth customer, in less than 5 years of operation! We truly hope we are making the memory of JRD proud by building an airline he would have built if he were around in the new millennium!

Our goals in Commercial have been based on three key pillars: Outperform the industry in key revenue metrics; reduce costs that are in our control; and draw on the heritage of our legendary parents, taking on the proud legacy of JRD Tata and his pursuit of excellence, and in the process make flying something to look forward to again. I am proud to say that we have been successful in making great strides towards achieving all three pillars, thanks to the fabulous people we have at Vistara, and that is each one of you! Not only are we now visibly and comfortably outperforming the industry on all key revenue metrics while significantly driving down costs, we have also tried our best to follow in the footsteps of JRD in everything we do, from our attention to detail, to our focus on staff and customers, our branding, product, service, and most of all, our classiness and our abhorrence to the “chalta hain” and “not possible” culture. It is all this that has earned us all the accolades and, importantly, allowed us to charge a pricing premium to justify our full-service business model.

With innovations such as Vistara Woman Flyer, Branded Fare Families, Vistara World streaming IFE, eye-catching branding and advertising (with the fabulous Deepika Padukone as our brand ambassador for two years), classy cabin colours with mood lighting, fabulous cuisine, soft rock and blues boarding and landing music, the #NotJustAnotherNeo and the iconic Vistara Retrojet along with the accompanying stylish retro-uniforms, we have broken the mold of what airlines are expected to be, creating #NotJustAnotherAirline. We have shown that one can dare to be different, one can challenge the status-quo, and that differentiation pays dividends! For me the inspiration and passion for this kind of differentiation, the desire to break the mold and get away from the mundane, came  not only from JRD, but also from global icons such as Steve Jobs and Richard Branson, as well as from my personal musical heroes John Lennon and Roger Waters. The Vistara Retrojet in particular was a labour of love for all those who were involved in it, painstakingly and meticulously designed to pay homage to JRD and Tata Airlines, and Vistara’s “retro flights” caught the imagination of the travelling public like no other flying experience in India.

What we hear from our customers is that we have certainly made flying something to look forward to again, and it is the result of all of the hard work that each of you, the fabulous Vistara team, puts in day after day, creating an airline JRD Tata would be proud of! We have brought back some of the glamour and magic of flying, and in the process, we have also put to rest the misconception that the full-service model will not work in India. We have proven, day after day, that there is a meaningful segment in India that is willing to pay a reasonable premium for a better flying experience, and there is a meaningful segment that values business class and premium economy as well.

However, sadly, all good things must come to an end, and the time has come to think of the last decade or so of my professional working life with my head and not just with my heart, balancing both personal and professional goals. My daughter is in college in the US and my son will join soon, and I have entered the last dozen years or so of my working life, a stage where I need to start thinking more about longer-term goals and post-retirement plans.

Therefore, with a heavy heart, I have decided the time has come for me to move on from Vistara. I am moving on secure in my view that we in Strategy and Commercial have built the best network planning, airline partnerships, revenue management, sales, marketing, frequent flyer, inflight and cabin services, and customer engagement teams in the industry. We have changed the rules of the game in India, leading the industry into a race to the top in terms of customer handling and “human decency” instead of a race to the bottom.  And we have done it with passion, with warmth, with a smile, and ALWAYS with class. “Not possible” was never a part of our vocabulary, while “chalta hain” laziness and NATO (“No Action, Talk Only”) were short cuts to a short career in Strategy and Commercial. Those with passion, dedication, an eye for detail, and a sense of ownership will always prosper, and we should never lose the spark that makes us different.  Remember that doing the right thing and following your instinct to do unto others as you would have them do unto you, always triumphs over rigid following of the rule book.

As some of you might have sensed, the Division V-CLAP awards and celebrations last Friday was a special chance for me to celebrate your successes with you, and a chance to thank you personally for being such a wonderful, committed, passionate, hard-working, and loving team. Over the weekend I flew to Bombay with my wife and close friends to see the U2 concert – we were welcomed on board our Vistara flight with U2’s haunting track “One”, which is part of our boarding music, which also coincidentally turned out to be the track they ended their concert with last night! And I flew back to Delhi today on VT-ATV, the Vistara Retrojet - the aircraft that is closest to my heart.

My last working day at Vistara will be Dec 31. I leave Vistara convinced that it is destined for greatness, and wish all of you, and Leslie and the entire leadership team, the very best. Commercial will now be reporting to Vinod, and you are in good hands – in fact I have been giving a soft handover of a few departments to him already over the last few weeks after I gave notice, so as to ease the transition. Even though I am moving on, I will always look forward to flying Vistara and trust you will continue to make both JRD Tata and Singapore Airlines proud.

Thank you for taking the time through read through this rather lengthy email. While the decision to move on has been made with my head, this note is purely from my heart!

Love you all, and will miss you all!

Sanjiv.