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Dr Matthias Funk, Managing Director At Gategroup Services d.o.o. Belgrade

Innovation Is The Driving Force

Headquartered in Zurich, gategroup delivers operational excellence through the most extensive catering network in the aviation industry, catering ca. 3,3 million flights for 300+ global aviation customers and serving more than 520 million passengers in 2022 from over 200 operating units in over 60 countries across all continents

The process from Board Approval of the concept in May 2019 to company registration in Serbia took only two months, with operations launched just three and a half months later. The company has experienced growth of partly over 100 new employees in one year, advancing from 20 employees on the first day to over 300 employees today. And gategroup isn’t planning to stop there.

Your company has spent decades as a leading global player in airline catering, retail and hospitality products and services. You serve hundreds of millions of passengers worldwide each year.

Thank you for highlighting our company’s long-standing presence and leading position on the global market for airline catering, retail, and hospitality products and services. Indeed, gategroup is the global leader in airline catering, retail-on-board and hospitality products and services. In 2022, gategroup achieved CHF 3.9 billion in revenues generated by more than 38,000 employees worldwide.

Over the years, we have honed our expertise, expanded our operations and developed strong partnerships to meet the diverse needs of passengers across the globe. Our leading position in airline catering, retail, and hospitality products and services is a result of our industry expertise, global reach, commitment to quality and safety, innovation, sustainability efforts, customer focus and strong partnerships. We strive to exceed passenger expectations and contribute to a seamless and memorable travel experience for millions of passengers worldwide.

What role is played by innovation and advanced technological solutions in your company’s positive business results, but also your good reputation?

I appreciate that you acknowledge our positive business results and the good reputation of our company. During the course of 2022, the company rehired more than 5,000 employees, bringing its workforce back to 90% of its pre-COVID numbers. We ramped up all our operating units and nearly doubled in size compared to 2021, recording revenues of CHF 3.9 billion and increasing our EBITDA by 65.5% to CHF 100.1 million.

Innovation is the driving force behind progress and growth in today’s rapidly evolving business landscape. By embracing innovation, we continuously seek new and improved ways to deliver products, services and solutions to our customers. This mindset enables us to stay ahead of the competition, meet changing customer needs and explore untapped markets.

By combining over 40 years of industry experience with a passion for design and service trends, gategroup delivers bespoke, customer-centric and impactful innovations

For example, deSter, one of our four gategroup family members, is a leading provider of innovative food packaging and serviceware concepts to the aviation and food service industries. By combining over 40 years of industry experience with a passion for design and service trends, we deliver bespoke, customer-centric and impactful innovations.

Through dedicated research and close collaboration with our customers, we keep our finger on the pulse of today’s market. We are thereby able to deliver functional and attractive products that don’t only deliver on today’s requirements, but also anticipate the needs of tomorrow.

Your business philosophy is very simple in that you always prioritise the passenger – though this doesn’t necessarily mean that meeting their expectations is easy. But you nonetheless succeed in doing so… How?

Meeting customer expectations is indeed a challenging task, but we strive to succeed by following a few key principles:

• Customer-Centric Approach: we place the passenger at the centre of everything we do. This means actively listening to their needs, understanding their preferences and anticipating their expectations. By constantly seeking feedback and engaging with our customers, we gain valuable insights that help us shape our products, services and experiences to meet and exceed their expectations;

• Continuous Improvement: we believe in an iterative approach to improvement. We are constantly analysing customer feedback, monitoring industry trends and evaluating our performance. This allows us to identify areas requiring enhancement and make necessary adjustments to ensure we are consistently delivering high-quality experiences. By embracing a culture of continuous improvement, we can adapt and evolve in line with our passengers’ changing needs.

• Collaboration and Partnerships: we recognise that meeting passenger expectations requires collaboration not only within our organisation, but also with external partners. We work closely with our suppliers, vendors and other stakeholders to ensure a seamless end-to-end experience. By building strong partnerships, we can leverage collective expertise and resources to deliver exceptional value to our passengers.

Gategroup Services established its Belgrade operations in 2019 as SSC of the group with global positions in Finances, IT, Legal & Compliance, Administration etc. Are you satisfied with the results achieved over the previous four years?

Extremely satisfied! I still cannot believe how fast everything went. From Board Approval of the concept in May 2019 to company registration in Serbia took only two months, and we launched operations just three and a half months later, on 1st November 2019. We’ve experienced growth of partly over 100 new employees in one year, progressing from 20 employees on the first day to the over 300 employees that we have today. And we’re not planning to stop there.

By embracing innovation, we continuously seek out new and improved ways to deliver products, services and solutions to our customers

But what were the reasons for our fast growth and positive results? Of course, the fact that gategroup acquired SkyChefs from Lufthansa and consolidated our Shared Services landscape in 2021 was a significant contributor. A major role was also played by the insourcing of our IT services, which we have been providing since 2022 from our Belgrade office. However, I think the biggest contributor to our success is the excellent service we provide to our customers in 15 countries across Europe.

We have been creating a regional talent pool and I am proud to be able to say that we are providing employees with the opportunity to develop personally and improve their career prospects within the SSC, but also beyond its boundaries.

Is it true that, when times are at their toughest, everything depends on a good team, organisational culture, the motivation of employees etc.?

That’s correct – as we were confronted by one of the biggest crises in our industry just a few months after SSC was established, we were unable to develop our strategy in the way we’d planned. We were then focused mostly on non-material benefits that we could offer our employees (working time flexibility, working from home etc.) and being flexible with all the “small things” that can make employees happy. During those times, employees had to work even closer together, support each other and communicate openly to find innovative solutions, adapt to changing circumstances and overcome obstacles. And today the company still benefits from the organisational culture that was established during those times and its positive team spirit.

While we’re on the topic of challenges, what forms the basis of your future plans? After the enormous growth that we’ve experienced year-on-year since our office was opened, our goal for 2023 is to focus more on improving our current processes, our visibility on the market, building long term relationships and keeping our employees motivated. We are also trying to share good practices and the experience we gained with other parts of our business. On the other hand, investment in advanced technology and embracing advanced technological solutions is essential to remain competitive and to satisfy evolving customer expectations.

We continue to evaluate the potential value of artificial intelligence and machine learning as a tool for automating internal and customer-centric processes, such as accounts payable/accounts receivable management, permanent inventory and predictive analytics. In addition, we are monitoring advances in data mining that can create opportunities to further customise final customer experiences.

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