A 10-minute conversation with Tony Sofianos, CEO of Wings Travel Management, to delve into his experiences during the Covid-19 pandemic and how Wings has managed during this time.
Q: How has lockdown been for you? What personal challenges have you faced?
This has been an exceptional time for all of us and like everyone else I’ve faced many personal challenges. I’m very fortunate to be with my family – my wife Zoy and our 3 children – at our new home in England and, thankfully, we have all remained healthy. I’ve missed not seeing my extended family and my friends as I’m very much a people person; I’m very sociable and love the company of others, I need little excuse to have a get together. Similarly, at work, I miss not being in the office amongst my team and listening to people’s thoughts and ideas.
Q: What does a typical lockdown day look like for you?
Because we are a global business and cross many time zones, I’ve tried to stick to a daily routine that starts with coffee and exercise first thing and on weekends we take long walks. During work hours I spend a lot of time talking to my teams across the world on the phone or Skype/Team calls. Our conversations have helped keep me focused and my team motivated and positive. My daily routine hasn’t really altered that much but the big difference for me is not travelling. I’m usually away from home at least 1-2 weeks out of every month, visiting clients or travelling to Wings offices around the world.
Q: How has business been during this time?
After the initial shock of the scale of lockdown, we quickly developed a new perspective of what needed to be different; The key aspect was to change our thinking method to be more aligned of a start-up mentality. No process has been too small or big to review, we have taken insights across the company. We are a resilient business and the positives to take from this situation is the way we’ve worked as a team to get through this. ‘Determination’ is one of our company values and I’ve witnessed that trait in all our employees on the front line, every day throughout this period; it’s been a humbling experience and I couldn’t be more proud of my colleagues at Wings and how they’ve managed during this time.
Q: How has Wings helped clients during lockdown?
We’ve helped clients tremendously in so many different ways. For many of our clients, their needs have changed during this time and we’ve had to adapt quickly along the way. Our experience lies with complex travel which is our expertise. We help clients navigate travel and logistical requirements in challenging regions and that skill set has put us in a strong position to support them during this time.
Q: Can you give us some examples?
I can provide two examples. One of our government clients handed us the task of organising the logistics of repatriating 950 people. There is nothing straightforward about this task. This wasn’t a simple reservation but more like a project as we had to work with each supplier to ensure strict hygiene protocols were adhered to at every point. It was early on in lockdown and so for some of the suppliers it was the first time they’d had to implement such measures. Bottom line is that we delivered on the project successfully.
We have another client with essential workers. We’ve devised a system with them to ensure their workers quarantine safely in a hotel prior to them being deployed to work on and off oil rigs. We’ve worked with the hotels in question, to ensure all Covid-19 government guidelines are adhered to and in place and most importantly that it all works seamlessly for the client and their travellers remained safe
In another area of our business we’ve worked to develop a contact-free solution for key workers required to travel during the pandemic. We’ve again worked with suppliers – including car hire, hotels and flights – on every step of the process to ensure its seamless and safe.
There’s no such thing as a simple reservation during this time. Supporting clients through Covid-19 has been complex but we’re used to working on meticulous travel logistics and that expertise and insight has definitely helped us and our clients.
Of course, none of this is possible without our dedicated employees, who understand the importance of delivering value without compromising safety
Q: What has Wings done differently for clients during this time?
We’ve done many different things to serve our clients during this time but above all it’s about supporting them through the upheaval and uncertainty that the pandemic has created.
We’ve always enjoyed a close relationship with our clients but during the pandemic, if anything, we’ve strengthened that bond and strengthened the trust we enjoy. We’ve worked with many clients to truly support them through this exceptional period.
Q: What lessons have you learned from this period?
There have been so many lessons learnt during this pandemic: our colleagues across the world, their resilience and commitment have been impressive; our leadership team’s weekly communications and honest and straight forward approach; the fact that people react very differently when in the midst of a crisis. It’s fascinating how some colleagues can thrive at times like these. It can bring previously-hidden leadership talents to the fore.
It’s also been surprising to me that a situation such as the Coronavirus, one that has brought unimaginable chaos and fast-paced change to our business, has conversely enabled true clarity and focus for our business.
Unquestionably, the biggest lesson for me – and I’m sure this is shared by the majority – is the value of family, good health and humility.