ABTN editor Martin Ferguson talks to Finnair's sales manager for the UK and Ireland, Frederick Charpentier
Finnair has been on an aggressive profile-boosting mission in the UK for the best part of two years. And there remains little doubt that the carrier has a compelling and attractive proposition for business travellers: a young fleet of aircraft with modern premium cabins, a recently refurbished and decidedly tranquil hub with all-mod-cons in Helsinki, and arguably one of the fastest routes to the Far East (its USP being the direct flight path over Finnish airspace knocks about an hour off most direct routes from London).
And it's an integral part of the British Airways-Iberia-American Airlines-lead Oneworld alliance. So there's plenty to work with. It may seem strange, then, that the man brought in to drive its business forward in the UK and Ireland has only a matter of months experience in the travel business. Step forward Frederick Charpentier, the airline's sales manager for the UK and Ireland as of September 1.
The Finn - a graduate from the Hanken School of Economic in his native country - has spent the majority of his career in the world of real estate, most recently as international sales manager for serviced office provider Regus.
"The Finnair job was an interesting opportunity," he says. "It came at a point when I was looking to do something different."
"So far it has been fact-paced, lots to learn and take on board. I'm spending a lot of time getting around meeting people and building up my knowledge and expertise."
And Charpentier is no fool. He understands he has joined an industry with some of the slimmest margins in the world of business and where companies, like his own, struggle to turn an annual profit. But he is undeterred by such chitchat.
"We have won new business this year. In fact, we are adding accounts all the time. We've already seen an improvement in our figures.
"As a smaller airline we are hungry for all the business we can get. Perhaps compared to the big players, we are more interested in some of the smaller fish. But we want to see potential in all of our clients. If we find it, we can offer a good product without commitment to volumes. And if the potential grows, we can customise something for the client."
He is positive and confident with every chosen word. And he is an experienced businessman; it would be churlish to suggest Charpentier is not accustomed to dealing with crises and the ramifications of periods of economic strife. But by joining the ever-developing acronym-filled airline business, you do get the feeling that maybe he doesn't know what he's letting himself in for. But ash clouds, strikes and unpredictable oil prices aside, he has high hopes for his business in the UK.
"I am optimistic about next year. We are growing the team, which will give us the opportunity to chase more business without losing the focus on our important existing clients.
"Of course, if you look at growth figures over 2010 compared to the previous year, it won't be an accurate benchmark given the global situation at that time. But that will pan out when we get back to normal levels, so we won't see the same growth."
The Finn says strengthening his sales team by two people will present the next step in the airline's growth. Hitherto, he thinks Finnair has only "scratched the surface".
"We are getting the message across. We have some good unique selling points and a good product. But we have only scratched the surface and there is a lot that still can be done if we have the resources."
At present, Finnair flies four times daily out of Heathrow and twice out of Manchester.
"We separate the Manchester and London markets. If you are flying out of Manchester you don't have many direct options anyway. I wouldn't say it was an easy sell, but it's a clear USP. You can fly via Helsinki and avoid the more congested hubs. "Whereas London is a market where there is a lot of competition and there are a lot of direct options.
"However, we're finding that the cost pressure on orgs these days it opens the door to us to pitch for indirect option, and we have the best product in the market. We have that short direct route then the quick connections because it's an uncongested airport."
I suggest Scotland as a region where a Finnair service would be welcomed with open arm given it suffers from an ever more acute lack of direct destinations than Manchester. But Charpentier, wisely, won't fuel unnecessary speculation, saying he'd prefer to "get his head round" Manchester and London before looking further afield.