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Collaborating into a brighter future

air serbiaWriting about collaboration is always exciting. The ever expanding topic is full of angles to which I can dedicate time and energy. Inspiration comes from constant observation and study of the environment in which I find myself. This time I was inspired by an inflight magazine of Air Serbia. The article was an analysis of a phenomenal collaboration between Etihad Airways and Air Serbia. The strategic partnership has been noted in the air industry circles for its growth and dramatic turnaround in the fortunes of the long suffering Air Serbia (previously JAT). In the past year alone the airline has gone from $150M loss to a small profit and has recorded an 80% increase in bookings.

Partnerships in the air flight industry are not new. If anything, they have been a mainstay of that industry for some time now. What interested me in this case was the strong narrative of collaboration by the CEO of Etihad Airways, James Hogan. Mr Hogan explains that Etihad Airways continues to leverage its brand of innovation and focus on growth through collaboration and strategic investment in a select group of airlines, such as Air Serbia. Instead of pursuit of growth on its own, Etihad has focused on a collaborative strategy; a strategy that is helping a very young airline (Etihad was only established 11 years ago) to pursue its goal of being very connected globally, under a model of collaboration often referred to as equity alliance’. This type of collaboration also includes other airlines such as Air Berlin, Virgin Australia  and Italian carrier Alitalia  .

Philip Lewin (left), Etihad Airways General Manager Germany, accepts the award for Best Performing Airline 2014 at the Munich Exchange forum.

Philip Lewin (left), Etihad Airways General Manager Germany, accepts the award for Best Performing Airline 2014 at the Munich Exchange forum.

Mr Hogan is heading Etihad Airways’ focus on collaborative growth, with passenger safety and customer service as the key to success in the future. The story so far has shown that cooperation between two partners with different histories and business records: one being a globally recognised player and the other a struggling regional operator (although it’s worth noting that Air Serbia traces its roots to 1927 and at its peak was a top 10 airline in Europe), can in fact offer a unique competitive opportunity when collaboration is the strategy of choice. It is interesting to note that the growth of Air Serbia through its collaboration with Etihad Airways has created a positive impact on the overall business growth in Belgrade as it has become an easy destination for investors. One such opportunity currently being pursued is investment in the Nikola Tesla Airport in Belgrade which is in need of expansion.

This interesting partnership is another indicator of a rarely discussed feature of collaboration; the positive flow-on effect it creates for businesses beyond the initial players. A collaborative frame of mind is able to produce the best results when a vision of brighter business is not hampered by short term self-interest. Self-interest can and should offer a larger story whereby an entire business eco system is energised. That may be why a collaboration strategy should be framed as a visionary narrative with an open ended possibility for all participants. What may start out as an exercise in finding growth solutions can easily evolve into a much more compelling story. And, who doesn’t like that?

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