Before being awarded The STAT Trade Times Lifetime Achievement Award at the Air Cargo India 2020 exhibition and conference held in Mumbai, Lise-Marie Turpin, sat with Reji John, to talk about reaction to the award, retirement, and her current connections with the air cargo industry. Edited excerpts:

What’s your reaction to winning this award?
I am very surprised and terribly honoured for this. Honoured, because I have put in so many years into cargo business and I love the cargo business.  So, to be recognised by STAT Times is truly a privilege. But once again, I wouldn’t receive this if I didn’t have a team of great people around me to provide me the environment to flourish. So it is really not about me; it is about the whole team, particularly Air Canada Cargo.

Can you pick some key highlights of your career that spans four decades?
I really fell into the airlines industry by happenstance. I was a university student and I was looking for a part time summer job. I got a job in the airline industry and I never left because, they talked about having the bug, and I had the big very seriously. I was very fortunate to have the experience in the passenger as well as the cargo departments. I must say my career is split half. But it is really the last latter part of my career that was in cargo. I found it to be a challenging environment. It is always changing; there has never been one day the same as the next. For me, cargo was wonderful. I had the opportunity to work for two airlines in my career. I was with Air France where I did passenger and cargo and latter half of my career was with Air Canada working both in passenger and cargo divisions. So they were both tremendous schools and I had the privilege of working overseas so getting to know different cultures and understanding different markets and how people react. This was really helpful to me. And in cargo I also had the privilege of working the operations, which was probably one of the best things to have happened to me. Because it allowed me to learn really about what cargo is all about. Not just the commercial part,  but how do things move; what you need to do to enable the movement of goods, depending on what types of product you are moving, etc. That was a turning point for me. So moves can be lateral but being lateral you gain breadth and that is the opportunity I had by being able to go from sales to cargo operations. From there eventually I took on more senior roles to finally become the vice president of cargo at Air Canada. So I had a good understanding of the commercial part of the business but also a very in-depth understanding of the operations. I think the two together really enabled to make hopefully good decisions.

How connected are you with the air cargo industry now?
I haven’t disconnected completely because I do watch things at a distance. It is interesting. I don’t have my hand on the pulse. I am at a distance. But I do look at it because I am interested in world economy and world trade; so automatically I am interested in what’s happening in the cargo world.

What keeps you busy now in the retired life?
I think certainly travel and reconnecting with family and friends which has been wonderful. I now have more time to be, what I call ‘a little bit more civilised, little bit more patient and tolerant and what not’ because I think when you are so tied up in your work sometimes you lose sight of things that you should be doing. So I am trying to reconnect to that. One of the areas that interest me at the end of my career was helping women. Not just women in Canada or that I was in contact with but also women in the world at large. What can we do to make sure that women who are from underprivileged areas rise and make a difference. So I became involved in helping out an organisation in Canada that looks at raising funds to provide higher education for women in Sub Sahara Africa. A lot of women that we helped are women who come from very poor environment. We have identified women who are bright and have the desire to break through the poverty cycle and to invest time in studying and become leaders of their families or their communities.

You are someone who held very senior leadership positions in industry organisations. What are your thoughts on attracting new talent into air cargo industry and gender diversity?
Unfortunately, air cargo industry is not very well known by the public. We don’t deal with the end consumer, we deal with middle men. And so we are invisible unlike the passenger world. What we do is almost hidden. And I guess that is the biggest challenge. We do need to tap into more talent. The industry needs bright minds who have solutions, who are going to find ways to help us keep this industry progressing at a faster pace. One of my frustrations with the industry is that it is so slow to move. There are reasons for that. In an airline you (cargo) are sort of at the low end of the pecking order, sometimes for getting capital and make investments. Having said that, the industry needs to find a way to tap into talent and that talent should not to be restricted to only one gender. The more we have the better we will succeed in attracting that talent. I think with the universities we had started looking at that. Going out to educational institutions to try and highlight what this industry is about. It is fascinating when you think about it. We have our finger on the pulse of world trade, you know, if you look at what’s going in the world right now, people are going to start feeling the repercussions of what’s going on with this coronavirus. The current crisis will impact air cargo and disrupt the flow of goods in general and eventually will impact the consumers. So this is the time when that would become more evident. Therefore, we need to have people who have solutions to find alternatives on what do we do in such instances? So, it is important to have the word out on all the fascinating jobs that are available in cargo. You know there is sales, commercial, marketing, finance, operations, it is so vast. It is an airline within an airline. It has all the opportunity to attract anyone and I think women are absolutely capable and apt in if they would be interested in it.

What’s your advice to air cargo professional and those wanting to join the industry?
That is a tall question. But I guess the more we talk about the industry the more we build awareness. We take both men and women in the industry to go out and try and attract talent into the industry. And once again it shouldn’t be difficult in that we have so many fascinating areas of the business in which one could be involved. Someone may have an IT background, and guess what; there is a lot of IT going on in cargo. It could be in finance, sales or marketing. I think, the wonderful part about the cargo industry, which I really enjoy, was that it is really a small industry, relative to the airline industry. You will get to know everybody. That is fun too. You build relationships and you are able to not only work at something you love but also with people that you enjoy and with whom you can connect.

This interview was originally published in March 2020 issue of STAT Trade Times.