Lancaster graduate gets top role with Virgin Atlantic in India
Stephen King, who graduated from Lancaster University Management School in 2002 with a BSc in Operational Research and Operations Management, was appointed as General Manager-India for Virgin Atlantic in November 2011.
Here he recalls his career progress since leaving Lancaster, and how his degree has played an important role in this.
Stephen always wanted to work in aviation. At Lancaster, his Operational Research (OR) and Operations Management degree included a year in industry. “Though the airlines were an attractive option, everyone seemed to be going to British Airways,” says Stephen, “so I took a different direction and headed into Shipping with P&O, where there were only four placements. This paid off on my graduation in 2002 when, since it was the first graduate recruitment cycle since the September 11th atrocities, airlines were focused on surviving and there were recruitment freezes everywhere.”
Stephen was offered a position on the NOL shipping graduate scheme. His first posting was to France where he worked in Sales and Operations looking after the multi-modal logistics (truck, ship, train and truck again) for Christmas toy imports from South China to Eastern Europe.
“Surprising all my friends, I actually used the operations management parts of my degree in the workplace. My next posting took me to London, playing with trucks and trains across the UK. This time the technicalities of building models and project management came into play, though the issues we faced were a little more complicated than those we covered in the classroom.”
Stephen’s patient wait for an airline role paid off when he took a sideways step into the Business Consultancy team (essentially the OR team) at Virgin Atlantic in 2005. “Without doubt my degree was key to getting this role. Before long, I had the opportunity to run the team and put OR theory into a practical business context. Fascinating projects ranging from forecasting manpower and queue times for our revolutionary Upper Class Terminal at Heathrow, to validating complex assumptions behind a multimillion pound Revenue Management system, took me and the team across the business.“
OR also opened the door to his next position: looking after Revenue Management globally in Virgin Atlantic’s freight division. “Having a degree in OR from a good university made a difference at industry events (the first of which was in Tahiti), where a solid background added credibility. After a brief stint learning the ins and outs of Sales, I got the call about Delhi.
“‘Have you been to India? How do you fancy moving there for three years?’” and five weeks later he found himself stationed in Delhi, as General Manager-India for Virgin Atlantic.
“The move itself was relatively easy; it often is when you have a big company to help you out. Still, there is a certain amount of paperwork that you can’t get away without, especially in India.”
Stephen’s job is to look after and grow Virgin Atlantic in South Asia: driving revenues, managing operational costs effectively and everything else – such as marketing and finance – that are needed to make that happen.
“India is a fascinating country, growing so fast, full of opportunity and hard work. My job reflects that energy and no two hours are ever the same. I can go from seeing customers to reviewing the budget, to delivering a business update to our cabin crew, to meeting a ministerial delegation at the British High Commission. For me the best bit is still seeing one of our sleek Airbus 340s safely off to the UK with another 308 passengers sitting comfortably on-board.”