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Go-ing It Alone

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Since November 2011, the Mumbai-headquartered low-cost airline GoAir has been plagued by a series of senior level departures. According to industry sources, its top team has seen so much churn that almost everyone on the team currently has been with the airline for less than six months.
One former employee says that the airline is witnessing "unending exits with unerring regularity". GoAir has seen four heads of human resource development (HRD), three chief financial officers (CFO), five heads of sales and marketing and three CEOs come and go since it started operations in the second half of 2005.

In November 2011, GoAir saw the departure of Rahul Deans, who used to head  sales, marketing and revenue management. In the same month, the airline also lost CFO Sujit Cherian, who had been with the firm for 18 months. Cherian was formerly a Jet Airways employee and had worked there for five years prior to joining GoAir. Cherian's successor, Joy Basu, has also resigned after spending just four months with the carrier, say sources.

Apart from Basu, the airline has also lost its head of revenue Kashyap Mansata (April 2011-May 2012) and head of sales Praveen Nair, who left in February 2012 after having spent two years with the airline. The head of sales for the North, Vivek Sharma, also quit this June as did the head of sales, South.

Other recent exits include two vice-presidents (legal and HRD) and three general managers (airport operations, purchase and security).

In response to an emailed questionnaire asking about these departures, the company's public relations agency said that its attrition levels were "well within industry norms".

It also said that each year, after the performance review, underperformers were put under an improvement plan, and evaluated after six months. If there was no improvement, they were transitioned out. And that many people resigned during that six-month period.

Former employees say the primary reason behind the heavy churn is the lack of "direction" at the carrier. "The promoters and management do not seem to know where the airline is going. After being there for a while, I did not think my career would go anywhere either," says a former employee. He said the airline had often made announcements in the past, none of which it had managed to stick to. Others said the entry of a new vice-president, commercial, who was earlier with Kingfisher and who is now hiring many people from Kingfisher at much higher salaries, is the reason for many of the exits.

Employees said the promoters seemed to be thinking in terms of a stake sale "which is looking more and more unlikely as the months go by".

GoAir has, in fact, been thinking of a large stake sale since mid-January 2007. The company had back then announced its plans to sell a minority ownership position to assist it with funds for continued expansion, but it never managed to pull it off.

It is the same story as far as fleet expansion goes. In 2007-08, the airline had said that by March 2009, it was planning to add 18 aircraft to its fleet (at that point it had six A320s) and by March 2011, it had plans to increase its fleet size to 34. As of now, however, the airline has 12 aircraft flying to 23 destinations.

(This story was published in Businessworld Issue Dated 16-07-2012)