MOST INFLUENTIAL WOMEN 2015/16
CASE IN POINT | Air Mauritius
by Samantha Barnes
Airline Creates Goodwill in Community
It is a wonderful thing to encounter a business executive who recognises that the small efforts we all make each day add up to something significant. The British novelist Emily Dickinson once said: “If you take care of the small things, the big things take care of themselves. You can gain more control over your life by paying closer attention to the little things.”
It is also important to dream big. “My passion as a young girl was to fly,” says Carla da Silva, regional manager of Air Mauritius Southern Africa and Latin America. “Although I would have succeeded in law as I could have negotiated my way out of everything! I started out as a flight attendant with South African Airways and flew internationally to all international destinations. This was a phenomenal experience in terms of global exposure. I then moved to working on the ground and started my climb up the corporate ladder. I have worked in most aviation departments. It is so important to understand the nuts and bolts in aviation as aviation is a complicated business.”
Everyone Needs a Mentor
Carla has had phenomenal leaders inspire her over the years, but it was definitely her dad that was her number one mentor. “He was the one who sat me down and who said, ‘My girl, you must have a dream wall. Absolutely nothing is impossible.’ I attribute a lot of my success to my dad,” says Carla.
“My folks really wanted me to study law. Most of my career has been in management. Today I am a Director of an international airline; the Chairman of the Board of Airline Representatives in South Africa and a Board Director of Aviation Coordination Services. I have an absolute passion and appreciation for Board directorship as business success sits on the shoulders of leadership. All begins and ends with leadership.”
Carla is the brand ambassador for a very worthy cause, I am Worthy and the Face of Woman of Worth. This programme was started by a South African, Dr Beverley Wolmarans; who has dedicated her life to Women and Orphans. Dr. Beverley’s starting point was that every woman is a Woman of Worth but Women do not always value their abilities and believe in their potential to achieve all that can be achieved. Dr Beverley’s motivation is to help women turn their lives around through her life experiences.
I am Worthy attends to orphans and abused women situated on the East Rand of Johannesburg. 100 hectares of land has been purchased and a home will be established for these orphans and abused women. Education and Healthcare will be provided for this children’s village.
I believe that these children will be the future leaders, scientists and engineers of South Africa, says Carla da Silva. “Dr. Beverley had a dream to create a consolidated home with orphans and women; first in South Africa and thereafter in Africa and then internationally,” says Carla.
“She identified different orphanages on the East Rand in Johannesburg. Her aim was to support them on a monthly basis with food. An organic product range for women and men was developed in order to uplift and inspire and the products imparts inspiring messages; ‘I choose to be positive. I choose to love. I choose to live a full life.’ “The idea was to uplift women with these messages,” says Carla. There is a range for men too. “Their products have messages about bravery, integrity and valor. So it talks to men as well,” says Carla. “The most amazing phenomena about supporting these amazing products is that proceedings go to a worthy cause.”
Moreover job creation has also been established as products can be purchased via the website and commission structures established, so that women can earn a living whilst the proceedings are invested into the building of the children’s home.
Carla is using her influence; rallying support from other travel and tourism companies, to spend their corporate social responsibility project towards the children’s village. “Companies like Beachcomber South Africa, The Cullinan Group and The Holiday Factory have come on board,” says Carla. She has gone public with her call to assist the project on various radio and print media channels. We have taken onboard various organisations to walk the journey with us.”
Air Mauritius supports other worthy causes and donates old, but functional computers, printers and laptops to three homes for abused women to teach IT skills. The women are fed and are supported through counselling. “Addiction is a problem,” Carla explains, “Some of them arrived off the street and a life of prostitution. It is very sad that so many people have walked a dark road. We are truly blessed by comparison.”
Carla is personally involved with the children’s home and feeding the orphans. Many young girls are having babies and abandoning them for grants. “We find newborn babies, naked and left stranded at the orphanage,” says Carla.
Strategy as a Corporate Sponsor
“As a leader, it is your duty to influence other leaders and people to give back”, says Carla. She has been successful in attracting other leaders in travel and tourism to other corporate social responsibility projects. “We are definitely created for a bigger purpose,” she says. “The footprints that we leave in people’s hearts are important although we still need to generate revenue as an entity.”
Harnessing Human Potential: a Business Perspective
Aviation is an industry with low margins. ‘Profit margins are less than 1%,’ confides Carla. “If an airline generates more than 1% it is a wow factor. It is a tough business. It is a complicated and challenging business with so many uncontrollable factors. ”
Besides reaching and exceeding revenue targets, Carla needs to ensure the sustainability of the airline. “We fly all over the world. Air Mauritius is the biggest employer on the island, and Mauritius is a second home to many South Africans.”
Providing excellent service and a memorable travel experience is what ultimately, giving Air Mauritius a competitive edge over its competitors. The airline has set up a performance management culture. “This involves succession planning, mentoring and coaching people, and ‘up your service,’ explains Carla. ‘Up your service’ is part of the airline’s seven step recovery plan and strategy.
“It is all about uplifting and extracting maximum potential of your people. Service is measured on a monthly basis,” says Carla. “This first step harnesses human capital to take it to the next level and is about accountability and productivity.” The programme was designed by the well renowned customer service expert, Mr. Ron Kaufman. “All staff do a refresher course every year to create unbelievable experiences and memories for our customers,” says Carla.
At Air Mauritius service and relationship management is a key focus area of the business. All interactions are measured on a daily and a monthly basis. A quarterly incentive is offered to reward sterling efforts. “Staff really compete against each other,” says Carla, with a chuckle. The top performer is rewarded with a seven night stay in Mauritius for them and their family at our annual staff awards ceremony.”
With Carla at the helm, and her passion and dedication to the aviation and the broader industry, she is building a sustainable business with passionate people.