Hong Kong is the world’s largest air cargo airport, so we feel the impact (of any dip in world trade) very quickly. But it is a cyclical business ... you just read the cycles and you react accordingly.”
Hong Kong as Asia’s preferred regional hub.”
British-born Whitehead studied law and economics at Nottingham University and then worked in London for five years as a lawyer before moving to Hong Kong in 1983.
He joined Jardine Matheson Group in 1987 as in-house legal counsel before moving to general management in 1990 and was appointed Hactl chief executive in September 2010.
He is married to a Hong Kong citizen and the pair have two adult children, both studying in the US.
A sailing enthusiast, Whitehead is the current Commodore of the Royal Hong Kong Yacht Club (RHKYC), and has taken part in several local sailing regattas and blue water offshore regattas. He is actively involved via the RHKYC in the development of water sports in Hong Kong. in 1987.
After Swire Pacific Ltd and affiliate Cathay Pacific Airways Ltd sold their stake in Hactl in 2010, the other existing shareholders, which included Jardine Matheson Group, bought up the shares and Whitehead took over as the chief executive.
The air freight industry is a dynamic business, Whitehead said, and the company has to work very hard to maintain service levels to keep its customer base, because it is a volumedriven business. “If the company has volume, everything is okay,” he said.
“I’m extremely proud of my work force,” added Whitehead.
“They are loyal to Hactl — we’ve got many employees who have been with us since day one and still working, for almost 40 years.
“They work in very difficult conditions, depending on the time of the year, we have a very good working relationship between the management and the work force, which is built on respect and mutual understanding.”
But unfortunately, young professionals in Hong Kong do not seem very attracted to the air cargo business, he said, since many choose to leave the company in their first year.
“I think it is because it’s hard work in difficult conditions (that drives young people away), and they have to work on shift basis. The time spent traveling is also quite long — young people have other options.”
But he stressed that once people make it through their first year, they will get used to the working environment and tend to work in the company for a very long time.
“We have good career prospects, good job security. Besides, air cargo is a robust growing industry — if you look at the numbers coming out of manufacturers like Boeing and Airbus, the orders being placed for aircraft are huge, so the industry has a very positive future.”
And after so many years, he is still passionate about the industry: “If I’m not, I won’t be here. Life is too short to do things you don’t like.”
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Mark Whitehead says even after so many years in the industry, he is still passionate about it, or he would not be here, as life is too short to do things one does not like. Mark Whitehead, CEO Hong Kong Air Cargo Terminals Ltd