ANA is the 2018 ATW Airline of the Year. Yuji Hirako is accepting the award at a gala dinner in Dublin. He joined ANA in 1981 and held a wide range of senior positions before becoming president and CEO in April 2017. 

Congratulations on ANA’s Award selection and on one year as CEO! In your view, what are the three achievements that make you most proud of ANA’s employees? By providing Japanese high-quality service “Omotenashi” [Japanese for hospitality], and a once-in-a-lifetime experience to all our passengers, we have just been awarded, for the sixth consecutive year, the highest 5-Star rating from SKYTRAX.

We have been expanding our international network. In 2016, we launched new flights from Tokyo Narita to Wuhan, Narita to Phnom Penh, and from Tokyo Haneda to Kuala Lumpur. In February 2017, we started Narita to Mexico City. We now serve 43 cities, with 85 routes, the highest number of routes since ANA began international service.

There is also our financial performance. ANA Holding’s financial results for the nine months ended December 31, 2017, were record highs, with operating revenue up 11.9% to 1,490.8 billion yen ($14 billion), operating income up 27.4% to 165.9 billion yen, ordinary income up 31.9% to 163.8 billion yen, and net income attributable to shareholders up 76.7% to 152.9 billion yen.

It is these and other achievements that, importantly, led to us being selected as the ATW Airline of the Year.

What are the three top priorities for ANA over the next year?  We think that 2018 will be a preparation year. By 2020, the Tokyo metropolitan airports, Narita and Haneda, will be adding slot capacity for international service, most likely to happen in 2019 or 2020. This means that there won’t be a huge chance for us to expand our services in 2018, and so ANA has decided that this should be a year for a thorough review of our customer experience, and also our maintenance programs and employee training programs, which are the backbone that enables us to provide the experience.

Also, since the number of foreign travelers is increasing dramatically, we need to improve our ability to best serve passengers who may not speak Japanese. We are also working very hard to improve the universal accessibility at our airports and inside our aircraft, in preparation for the 2020 Olympic and Paralympic games.

What are the qualities that you believe make a good leader? I believe that good leaders should lead the team with a true vision, a direction to head towards, and make strong decisions. Leaders motivate and inspire the team, but they must also be open-minded to new ideas. It’s important to always give the team fair evaluations and feedback.

And a good leader is optimistic, but also deliberate. I try very hard to be a good leader by always making my vision clear to the ANA employees. I also try to have as many direct conversations as possible, because those are the times when I get to hear new, innovative ideas that can lead ANA to its next steps.

How are people best motivated to work as a team and to deliver consistently high standards? We at ANA Group have a credo called “ANA’s Way,” which all employees trust as the fundamental mindset as to how we should welcome our guests. This credo describes our five core values in ANA’s Way--safety, customer orientation, social responsibility, team spirit and endeavor--to achieve the goals in our mission statement and management vision. Team spirit is very important in motivating each other towards the one goal of pleasing our customers.

I truly cherish the team spirit that our employees have. I want to witness their dedication with my own eyes, so I visit the frontline airport offices every week to observe our employees. This allows me to not only have more communication with the ANA frontline employees, but also to see ANA from a customer-oriented viewpoint, and I think that this is a very important moment for me to set our customer satisfaction goals.

How important is the Star Alliance to ANA? In 1999, we joined Star Alliance as the ninth carrier; there are now 28 members. Back in those days, our international service was very small and struggling to attract both Japanese and global passengers. By becoming a member of the Star Alliance, we were able to educate ourselves and learn strategic international route planning and introduce innovative ideas into our organization.

Now, our international service has grown to become the main core of our business plan.

The Star Alliance has a very attractive structure in which we discuss the future and exchange positive thinking. We think it is very important that these 28 carriers work together to bring more benefits as an alliance to all our customers.

How concerned are you about long-haul, low-cost competitor airlines? It’s not only the long-haul LCCs; we are carefully monitoring the types of next steps all our competitors are taking. As for ANA Group’s LCC service, we will continue to expand our short-haul routes, and around 2020 we plan to enter the medium-haul LCC market to capture demand to and from Asian and Chinese marketplaces, which is showing remarkable growth. We expect our subsidiary LCCs to play a significant role in ANA Group’s growth strategies, while also contributing to Japan’s tourism industry and the revitalization of Japan’s local regions.

What do you think will be the global air transport industry’s biggest challenge in the next five years? We believe that labor and infrastructure shortages will be a challenge for the aviation industry.

IATA announced that compared to 2016, in 20 years’ time the number of passengers will double to approximately 8 billion passengers. As the number of passengers dramatically increases, airlines will need to hire more pilots and employees to maintain their business. Also, we see that quite a few airports are struggling to accommodate the growing demand for slots and terminal capacity. Airspace congestion is becoming a serious problem, with severe delays becoming common in certain parts of the world.

Outside of the airline and aerospace industries, which companies do you most admire? Any company that positively embraces its founding spirit and unique DNA, while being flexible enough to adapt to fast-changing and evolving environments.