What does the future hold for the Swiss private jet industry?
An interview with the Managing Director and CEO of Air Charter Service Geneva – by Răzvan Dumitru.
Alvaro Recas Pardo is an alumnus who graduated in 2013 from The Hague campus. After two internships in Monaco and Switzerland, he decided to stay in Geneva and pursue a career in aviation – his childhood passion. From plane spotting and collecting aircraft as a child, Alvaro is nowadays managing the office of ACS – a niche market company that operates in private jet brokerage on a global scale.
What did you do after graduating?
I received an offer from the company for which I worked during my second internship – PrivatAir – a private jet company based in Geneva. However, I still had to write my thesis, so I only joined them after going back to the Netherlands for six months. During that time, I wrote, defended, and graduated with a thesis that was on the topic of aviation. I stayed within PrivatAir for two years. My activities within this company range from business development to private jet brokerage.
Following that, I was made an offer by a recruiter for a well-known Swiss private jet brokerage company. After being headhunted, they invited me to London to meet the president of the company and, after being interviewed, I obtained the job. Thus, I and one more colleague were the ones who helped in setting up the first office of this company in Geneva. Later on, after more employees were hired, I was chosen to manage the office. My main goal was to develop the business as much as possible since there are numerous opportunities in Switzerland. After three years, I was appointed CEO for Switzerland and managed to grow the team to 15 people. Together, we managed to achieve a revenue of €35 million in 2020.
When did you discover your passion for the airline industry?
I have been attracted by the airline industry from an early age. There is an airport close to the city where I grew up in Belgium. I went there quite often to do “plane spotting” – guessing the destination, company, and manufacturer of each plane that was landing or taking off. Besides that, I used to collect aircraft models when I was young, trying to observe the differences and particularities of each plane.
I obtained my glider pilot license in 2008 and started gaining experience in piloting gliders. Even though I knew that aviation was my favourite industry, I never actually wanted to start a career as a pilot since I believe that flying from A to B every day might become quite repetitive after a couple of years.
Therefore, I became attracted to private jets. It is a niche branch of aviation, with fewer people knowing the ins and outs of it and thus, an industry in which one can often encounter complex problems. However, this does not represent an obstacle since being continuously challenged to provide excellent service and finding solutions is a major driver of developing dynamism and resourcefulness, two qualities that are essential in this business.
Could you tell us a bit more about your role as a CEO at your current company?
My main objective was to find a strategy that satisfies all of our stakeholders. Today, I still adapt this strategy to match the external and internal environment of the company. My first challenge after I started the job was assembling a team that works well together and contributes differently to our shared goal.
Among many others, one of the most important responsibilities of a leader is finding a suitable workspace. As our operation grew, we had to keep looking for new office spaces that would enable everyone to work efficiently and comfortably. Needless to say, managing a team also entails many social skills. I believe that each employee should feel heard and listened to as a way of showing respect towards them. Even though a leader cannot fulfill every wish of his or her employees, it falls under the responsibility of the leader to provide an explanation of why that could not happen and make sure that the employee understands the reason. Keeping morale up is also vital. For instance, since we moved to a more spacious office building in 2021, I installed a foosball table, a mini-golf pitch, and a dartboard. My intention was to provide my employees with a distraction whenever they feel the need to blow off some steam.
Regarding future perspectives, I am planning to double the number of people that we currently have in the coming three to four years and acquire more market share in Switzerland.
How did the knowledge obtained while studying at Hotelschool The Hague help you in your career?
First of all, the Skotel experience was extremely helpful. Even though it might seem daunting to suddenly be faced with the need to cohabit with a bunch of people whom you have never seen in your life, living in Skotel shapes students and enables them to grow and develop. For me as well, interacting with so many cultures and types of personalities represented a transformational journey through which I developed my social skills but also broadened my horizons. The experience of working in teams, being a PE, MO, and Duty Manager throughout Hotelschool The Hague also helped me in my career as it resembles reality to a great extent, from not choosing who your colleagues are to the need to adapt to different perspectives and views. All in all, I think that Hotelschool The Hague provides its students with many opportunities to experiment and become familiar with the real corporate environment.
From your point of view, what did the pandemic change the most in your industry?
It is the best thing that has ever happened to us! Peculiar as it might sound, it is true. Some types of companies thrive during such times of chaos. In our case, the demand for people who wanted to reach certain destinations by taking a flight increased dramatically because many large-scale companies were either canceling or postponing their flights.
A trend that was caused by the pandemic is that people who used to opt for business class flights with large-scale companies turned to private jets due to their will to practice social distancing and fear to be in close contact with other passengers aboard. Because of COVID-19, we also noticed that many people were financially capable of flying but just preferred not to start flying as well. This phenomenon resulted in increased demand in renting but also in buying private jets.
The beginning of the pandemic was also beneficial for companies like us since we handled evacuation flights. Their care about the price was rapidly outweighed by the fear of being stuck in a country other than home.
Therefore, after restrictions started to ease, the private jet industry was faced with a demand from new customer segments.
How do you see the future of the airline industry? Is sustainability going to become a norm?
Companies will have to change their list of priorities in the coming future since sustainability will most likely become a norm. Given the current state and progress, my opinion is that aviation will not be the same in the coming 15 years. It will be the case since the solutions that became available range from new fuels to more aerodynamic aircraft that are meant to be fuel-efficient and more ecologic, providing companies with a multitude of choices.
What achievement are you most proud of?
This comes back to the winter of 2015 when I had the opportunity to travel to Debrecen in a private jet for a weekend. I went there to visit their UNESCO site, which boasts numerous species of birds and such wildlife. On my way back, I came across two stray dogs that were wandering on the road. After taking them to a veterinarian and discovering that they had no owner chip and seeing how fragile and starved they were, I chose to fly back to Switzerland with these two dogs besides my cat. As I travel very often, the initial plan is to find them an adoptive family as I believe that any animal has the right to have a warm home. We found a lovely South African family who lived around Lake Geneva and wanted to adopt them. After three years, the family had to be relocated back to South Africa. Thus, nowadays, the dogs live in a cozy house in South Africa. I was able to save these dogs only because of my job and the possibility at that moment to take them with us in that private jet.
What have you learned from your mistakes?
The takeaway of my greatest failure was to not assume anything. As human beings, we tend to make assumptions based on our own perceptions instead of solid facts. When I became a manager, I learned the importance of basing your judgment on facts instead of personal beliefs, especially when working and dealing with people.
We could easily tell that Alvaro is very passionate about aviation and travelling, but what else?
What is your favourite book?
The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg because I think that habits represent the base of life.
What is the last film that you saw?
Are you a morning person or a night owl?
I am both. I can be productive during any time of the day.
How do you prepare yourself for a workday? What is your ritual?
I always make sure to come to the office with a positive mindset.
What is your biggest dream in a few words?
To help defenseless animals.
Name one thing on your bucket list.
A trip to Antarctica. Besides that, I want to obtain my Private Pilot License (PPL).
What is your favourite place to visit out of all the places that you have been to?
The Turks and Caicos Islands. I went there three years ago with a friend of mine to paddleboard all around the islands and we slept every night under the stars. Besides not feeling so comfortable in the beginning due to various animal and insect noises at night, it was a truly unforgettable experience.
What is your favourite aspect about living in Switzerland?
Its safety, cleanliness, nature, and multiculturalism.
What would your advice be for students graduating in 2022?
Do not expect to get everything from the start. Expecting everything without proving anything can be a major mistake. Success is not built in a single day.