CEO Q&A: Margaret Shannon, country manager, Emirates Ireland

By Niamh Mac Sweeney
02 April 2014
Margaret Shannon

Margaret Shannon explains how Emirates continues to support Ireland’s export business whilst stimulating inbound tourism.

Q. Emirates recently celebrated its second anniversary in the Irish market. What milestones have been achieved and what are the plans for future growth?

A: Ireland has proven to be one of Emirates’ most successful route launches, highlighted by a number of key milestones since the airline entered the Irish market in January 2012.

Emirates first launched with an Airbus 330 aircraft, facilitating 237 daily connections between Dublin and Dubai. However, we very quickly recognised that demand was exceeding our expectations and by May that year, we had upgraded to a Boeing 777, providing an additional 52% passenger capacity on the route. We also increased our cargo load by 10 tonnes to 25 tonnes, which provided a significant boost to Ireland’s export trade.

The upgrade meant that we could connect up to 720 customers between Dublin and Dubai and beyond to destinations such as Australia, New Zealand, China, Hong Kong and India.

More recently, during a visit by An Taoiseach, Enda Kenny to Emirates’ headquarters in Dubai, the airline’s president, Tim Clark announced that from September 1st 2014, Emirates would operate two flights between Dublin and Dubai, every day. The impact of that announcement means that we will be connecting up to 22,000 customers between Dublin and Dubai every month and carrying up to 1,550 tonnes of cargo out of Dublin using our SkyCargo division. These figures are quite staggering and are good news for the Irish economy with Emirates continuing to support Ireland’s export business whilst stimulating inbound tourism.

Locally, it was crucial for us to have a strong presence both at the airport and also in city centre Dublin and we opened our new reservations and sales office on Hume Street last year.

This was a personal milestone as it was really important for me to establish an office in the city centre, where customers could drop in and book a flight or enquire about the many destinations on our network. We’ve achieved a lot in our two years in Ireland and are looking forward with real optimism.

Q. What has Emirates experience been since establishing in Ireland?

A: Emirates identified the strong potential in Ireland, which is a hub for industry, technology and tourism.

Ireland was always on the radar for us as there are a huge number of Irish nationals living overseas and whilst we have a population of around 4.5 million, it is estimated that more than 15 times that number live overseas, including somewhere in the region of 80,000 Irish nationals in Australia and about 5,000 in the UAE.

Emirates does not enter into new markets lightly. The Dublin route launch was carefully planned and represented a major investment in Ireland.

Q. Have the airline’s new routes encouraged better trade links between Ireland and UAE?

A: I think that Emirates is an important part of a big picture that links Ireland with the UAE and air travel is indispensable for tourism and trade, which are the major engines of Ireland’s resurgent economy.

Emirates’ arrival to Ireland increased access to the UAE and other markets, encouraging trade, investment and innovation. There is a clear traffic flow taking place between Dublin and the UAE, which can only be good for trade links.

The Irish Government recognises the opportunities this link represents, which was clearly demonstrated during a recent trade mission headed by An Taosieach to The Gulf. It is estimated that up to 100 new jobs in Ireland will be created as a result of the mission, which included a visit to Emirates HQ.

It’s important to remember that Emirates’ focus is not just about flying passengers from A to B. It’s also about stimulating demand from across our network in support of the regions from which we operate, such as Dublin. Each time Emirates has launched a route, we have provided a boost to trade and tourism.

Q. Can we expect any new routes out of Ireland in the coming year?

A: Absolutely. Emirates is one of the fastest growing airlines in the world and currently connects customers to over 140 destinations and that figure is set to grow during 2014.

We recently added Taipei to our route network and we will be making more announcements as we grow our network over the coming months.

On a macro level, Emirates expects to fly 70 million passengers around the world in 2020 and plans are already progressing to ensure that the right infrastructures are in place to make this happen. Ireland will have a significant role to play in achieving this goal.

Obviously, the announcement of a double daily from September 1st was a major development both for Emirates and the Irish market and it’s a tangible demonstration of our commitment to the growth of Emirates’ business in Ireland.

Q. How long have you been in your role as country manager at Emirates and what are your main responsibilities?

A: I have been overseeing operations for Emirates in Ireland since December 2011 and am responsible for the entire operation out of Ireland, which includes our reservations and sales office in Hume Street in Dublin, our airport operation in addition to our cargo business, SkyCargo.

My role covers all commercial activity within the market place and my main focus is to drive revenue to ensure the profitability of the Dublin route.

Q. What experience and expertise do you bring to this role?

A: I have been in the airline business for all of my working life and consider myself to be very lucky as travel and aviation are real passions of mine. Even after 35 years I love to travel and I love the buzz of the airline world.

Prior to joining Emirates I held senior positions with Aer Lingus, KLM and Ryanair, so it really is in the blood.

Q. Do you have a particular leadership style and how do you motivate your team?

A: I have a hands-on style and I like working in collaboration with my team. Taking this approach allows us to maximise our resources and achieve the results that are expected of us. I like to think that I lead by example, and creating an environment in which all staff can flourish is really important to me.

In relation to motivating the team, continuous staff training is essential as it allows team members to have confidence in their role.

Equally, I like to involve staff in decision-making, which really does help empower people and ensure that the role they play is integral to the business.

Q. What are the challenges in this industry and what are the driving forces that help you overcome these?

A: Every industry faces multiple challenges and that’s what makes business so exciting. The airline business is highly competitive and it’s essential that as a team, we stay on top of developments within the market so that we can maintain a position as leaders in our sector.

We have found that in Ireland some confusion around the Middle Eastern airlines exists and this is a challenge that we try to overcome through strong product and brand differentiation, together with strategic sponsorships such as The Irish Open and MasterChef.

If you work for Emirates, the driving forces are simple. It’s a world-class brand of which we are extremely proud and that underpins the desire to succeed and work through any challenges.

Q. Do you think the Irish Government are doing enough to support the aviation industry here?

A: I think that any initiative that focuses on creating and building an environment that supports entrepreneurship in the aviation sector is a positive development and is certainly a step in the right direction. The abolition of the Air Travel Tax by the Irish Government last year was a welcome move and sent out the right message to both the business and tourism sectors. But there needs to be continuous developments in infrastructure to attract new carriers in addition to ongoing investment in tourism and the global marketing of the Ireland Inc. brand.

Q. How do you define success and what drives you to succeed?

A: Success takes many different forms and to me it means a combination of things. Obviously, commercial success is essential and ensuring that the Emirates route from Dublin is profitable is a true mark of the success of the Irish operation.

Equally, creating a great office environment and knowing that staff enjoy coming to work every day can be a different measure of success and something that is really important to me. And, there really is nothing more rewarding than to receive a ‘thank you’ note from a satisfied customer or to get great feedback from colleagues in the travel trade.

My passion for the aviation industry drives me to succeed, as do the great relationships we have with our colleagues in the travel trade, who have shown us incredible support.

Working for a company such as Emirates, with an outstanding product and an unrivalled reputation is a great driver. If you really believe in a company and its product, you will be more driven to succeed.

Emirates Boeing 777