CEO Column

A Beautiful Journey

CEO Column

A Beautiful Journey

Date: 30 June 2022

Dear Colleagues,

“You never know what's around the corner. It could be everything. Or it could be nothing. You keep putting one foot in front of the other, and then one day you look back and you've climbed a mountain."

Since my start as CEO 8 years ago in 2014, I have shared about 100 columns with you. Today is my very last one. The quote above each column expresses ‘my feeling at that moment’. I am using some of them in this column to reflect back on my years as CEO.

And I liked it when I was somewhere in the company, in the Netherlands or elsewhere, and saw a printout of the column or quote. That really gave me energy. Along the way, I also received beautiful quotes from colleagues. That also gave me renewed inspiration.

I have used the quote above this column before. At the time, it was about change and the road we are travelling together as KLM. Today, I put it above the column to mark the end of my own beautiful journey of 30 years with KLM.

August 29 , 2008- Dallas new bestemming

October 29, 2015 - KLM opens sales channel via Alibaba

June 4, 2014 - Recommencement of scheduled service to Turin

August 29 , 2008- Dallas new bestemming

October 29, 2015 - KLM opens sales channel via Alibaba

4 juni 2014 - Hervatting lijndienst op Turijn

June 4, 2014 - Recommencement of scheduled service to Turin

My KLM journey began in 1992 at Schiphol Airport in aircraft loading. I had completed my logistics training, fulfilled my military service and was starting my professional life. I was 22 and the proverbial newbie. Earlier this month, I went back to speak to colleagues and hear what was on their mind.

During a visit like that, it still feels like yesterday when I started at KLM, because time flies when you’re having fun. I’m sure many colleagues recognise this, and it applies to me too. KLM has meant a lot to me. I am 52 years old and I have spent 30 of those years at KLM, and certainly, the last 8 intense years were “not a day without KLM”.

I have worked with amazing colleagues, had great opportunities, helped customers, had bosses that I could learn from, and contributed to KLM at different times. And thanks to so many of you, I have learned and seen a lot. I have lived in beautiful places: Italy, Greece and Japan. And visited many more beautiful places; ‘So much of who we are is where we have been’.

February 20, 2018 - Employee event

March 20, 2019 - Opening 70th Keukenhof

October 07, 2019 - KLM 100

February 20, 2018 - Employee event

March 20, 2019 - Opening 70th Keukenhof

4 juni 2014 - Hervatting lijndienst op Turijn

October 07, 2019 - KLM 100

By far the most beautiful part of the journey are my colleagues, in the Netherlands and internationally, the people I have had the privilege of working with at KLM, Transavia, Air France and the Group; ‘it’s not about the destination, nor about the journey, it’s about the company’. That fills me with enormous gratitude.

If you compare today’s KLM with that of the past, some things have not changed. The aircraft are still as blue as ever, and our colleagues still have the same passion for the business. And let’s not forget: the world around us is just as challenging as it was all those years ago, more challenging even. ‘Never a dull moment’. I dug into an annual report from 1992 and came across a number of remarkable things. The load factor of our aircraft, for example. In 1992, this was over 70 per cent and we transported 9.5 million passengers that year. We did all the work with some 26,000 colleagues. If you compare that to our anniversary year of 2019, with more than 35 million customers and 9 million with Transavia, and a load factor of 89 per cent and more than 33,000 colleagues in the KLM Group, then a lot has actually changed. Productivity has increased enormously, the aircraft are larger, the engines more fuel-efficient and sustainable.

Another constant throughout the years has been the spirit of the KLM colleague. The blue family. It’s a warm club that stands united for KLM, with their heart in the right place. Our men and women with a wonderful diversity of backgrounds, nationalities and religions who together make KLM. United in an ambition to provide our customers with a ‘memorable experience’ and to ensure safe operations. Day after day. That will always be the basis for everything we do!

Throughout the years, and also as CEO, I have always felt supported by the great commitment of my colleagues. This was true in good times like the KLM100 celebration, but also in difficult times during the corona crisis and the personal ‘blue heart support’ I received.

March 18, 2020 - Facemasks from China

April 20, 2020 - Opening air bridge Netherlands - China

July 8, 2020 - Recommencement of the Amsterdam-Shanghai line

March 18, 2020 - Facemasks from China

April 20, 2020 - Opening air bridge Netherlands - China

4 juni 2014 - Hervatting lijndienst op Turijn

July 8, 2020 - Recommencement of the Amsterdam-Shanghai line

“There is no elevator to success; you have to take the stairs”

As far as I am concerned, this quote symbolises the period between 2014 and 2019 on the way to celebrating KLM100 in 2019. When I was appointed as the 12th CEO of KLM in October 2014, there was a lot of work to be done. It resulted in ‘Change, Participate, Win’. We had to change, but you can only do that if everyone participates and that enables you to win in the end. Whichever way you look at it, it worked. Not without a struggle, however, because we had to make some difficult decisions, such as adjusting the organisation, HPO, -1 CA, adjusting pensions, etc. These hurt. And they certainly hurt me.

Perseverance in the face of adversity is what we do as KLM, over and over again and at a high level; ‘You have three choices in life: give up, give in or give it all you’ve got’. And that is what we did. As a result, KLM was back on the map, making a profit, and producing a beautiful solid product that everyone could be proud of.

This brings me to the following year, 2019. The year in which we were able to wholeheartedly celebrate our success and which I characterise with this quote:

Difficult roads often lead to beautiful destinations

I actually do not have much to add, but it was very special to put it mildly. We had come a long way and were finally able to look ahead positively. In that anniversary year, KLM was once again in good shape, brimming with energy and enthusiasm. From the big countdown in June to the ‘grand finale’ on 7 October 2019, it was one big party.

But in February 2020 the first clouds gathered on the horizon with corona, only a few months after KLM100. Clouds that became darker and darker, and that would have a huge impact with an unprecedented dramatic effect on our company and the world as a whole.

We went from around 120,000 customers a day on board in 2019 to 3,000 in April 2020. The fleet was grounded and the future uncertain. We faced an almost impossible task, one so big that we could only tackle it together.

October 07, 2020 - KLM 101

February 08, 2021 - First commercial flight with SAF

27 June 2022 - Farewell Head Office

October 07, 2020 - KLM 101

February 08, 2021 - First commercial flight with SAF

4 juni 2014 - Hervatting lijndienst op Turijn

27 June 2022 - Farewell Head Office

No one can whistle a symphony. It takes a whole orchestra to play it

We were the orchestra. The KLM colleagues in the Group around the whole world. Although I would not say that the misery caused by the corona pandemic can be described as a symphony. We still have not fully recovered, but the worst is behind us. We have had to fight very hard. Substantial sacrifices have been made, but they were not in vain. In spite of everything, the Blue Club once again proved itself. I cannot find words to express my gratitude for everyone’s efforts, because for something so enormous, words sometimes fall short. I can only say how special I found it: the work ethic, the resourcefulness, perseverance against the odds, not knowing when or where this crisis will end and still continuing to do your work. Under often very difficult, stressful and ever-changing circumstances. The few passengers we had back then were happy with us. So were the cargo shippers. We see this by the large numbers of customers that we are once again welcoming back on board our aircraft.

And then I come to the quote that symbolises the situation in which the organisation now finds itself.

It's not how many times you get knocked down that count; it's how many times you get back up

We all got up again and again. After a very difficult time and struggle, bookings are pouring in again. We have once again achieved a positive operating result in three successive quarters. It gives me a good feeling that we can once again do what we are good at: bringing people and goods safely and comfortably to their destination. This also made it possible to pay off two-thirds of our debts. Today we took the important step to also repay the last amount of 277 million euros. We are really happy and proud that we have now paid off the full loan of 942 million euros from the government and banks. We can demonstrate that we are a solid company again. A company that honours its commitments, with regained self-respect. Even when the circumstances are difficult, and I mean high work pressure, for example. We have always given it our all and stayed our course. Optimism is still unbridled and that is very valuable. Hang on to this.

June 29, 2022 - Awarded Commandeur in de Orde van Oranje-Nassau

June 29, 2022 - As CEO we stand on the shoulders of our predecessors

29 June -Goodbye reception Hangaar 10

June 29, 2022 - Awarded Commandeur in de Orde van Oranje-Nassau

June 29, 2022 - As CEO we stand on the shoulders of our predecessors

4 juni 2014 - Hervatting lijndienst op Turijn

29 June -Goodbye reception Hangaar 10

And that brings me to the last quote, that of the Indian writer Anita Desai:

“Wherever you go becomes a part of you somehow”

Suddenly thirty years have passed. I was not ready yet, but my journey with KLM is complete. As the saying goes; ‘I am leaving KLM, but KLM is not leaving me’. In recent weeks, I have said goodbye to colleagues in different places and in different forms within the company, concluding with a beautiful farewell reception. This has moved me and shown me again what an incredibly beautiful company we are, with fine, good and professional colleagues.

On 1 July, I confidently hand over the helm to Marjan Rintel as the new KLM CEO. I wish Marjan much success and good fortune. Once again, these are turbulent and uncertain times with the operational situation at Schiphol and recent government decisions around this. Just as I was unable to do it alone, but together with and supported by the blue KLM family, also applies to Marjan. I thank you in advance for that.

It was an honour for me to serve as the 12th KLM CEO in the 102-year history. Ultimately, we all stand on the shoulders of our predecessors and build upon them.

Meanwhile, after the summer, a new challenge awaits me at IndiGo in India. A beautiful company and very different from KLM in many ways. But just like KLM, it is full of ambition and beautiful blue colours. I am very much looking forward to it.

But... my heart will always be blue. And when I fly from India to Holland? It will be with you.

I will always follow the continuation of your journey. The many KLM colleagues I have met, those with whom I have had conversations, the stories you have told me, the experiences you have shared with me, emotions, complaints, compliments... All this has shaped me into who I am today. That makes me humble, but above all grateful. Thank you for allowing me to be your CEO for 8 years, thank you for allowing me to be part of the Blue Family for 30 years and thank you for allowing me to set the course for a beautiful journey in recent years.

I wish you all the best, both personally and for our KLM!

As long as my heart beats

It will be blue

And when I fly

It will be with you

Goodbye to colleagues in the divisions

Personal video massage

Photo's: Mark Wagtendonk & Natascha Libbert