Meet Khangi Khoza, an economist turned CEO of aviation firm in SA

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  • Khangi Khoza is the first woman appointed as CEO of Swissport SA, which  provides airport ground services and cargo handling.
  • Khoza has stepped up to lead Swissport SA as Covid-19 has cut the company's staff complement approximately in half.
  • Khoza is clear about the role she wants to play in the industry, including providing the best career training ground for aviation.

It's not an easy time to take the helm of an aviation company, and Khangi Khoza has stepped up to lead Swissport SA as Covid-19 has cut the company's staff complement approximately in half.

Global company Swissport provides airport ground services and cargo handling. Its ground handling capacity includes baggage services and aircraft maintenance. It is headquartered in Switzerland.

Khoza is the first woman to be appointed as Swissport SA's CEO. But she is quick to point out that, at the end of the day, regardless of one's gender, employees need leadership and to know what the tasks are they are required to do – particularly when facing an unprecedented challenge in the industry.

"I am not sure if the challenges I face as a woman are much different than for a man. My leadership style is one of having a big-picture perspective. Employees need a level of certainty, including about the culture of a company. I want that culture to be one of authenticity and hard work. Furthermore, diversity leads to better decisions," she says.

"Yes, aviation is still a very male-dominated industry, but I have received some of the best support in my career from my male counterparts."

Khoza – despite not having an aviation background herself – says she "understands how SA works" and that her first priority is paying that support forward and keeping the remaining staff motivated.

Before the pandemic, Swissport SA had about 3 000 employees, says Khoza. Now, that has been reduced to around 1 600.

"Because our business model is so diversified, we could manage during the pandemic. Cargo volumes remained fairly stable through 2020, while the passenger side was more impacted," says Khoza.

"We provide services at airports around the clock. It involves long hours. So, we focus a lot on improving our staff training and employee well-being," she says.

Keeping employees motivated and "on board for the company's journey" going forward is important to her. She is aware that, given the huge disruptions caused by the Covid-19 pandemic in the aviation industry, companies need to be agile.

Innovation and investment remain important focus points too going forward. This includes increased digitisation, especially on the cargo side, and initiatives to decrease the company's carbon footprint.

Khoza is an economist by training and worked in the banking sector before becoming involved in international relations at the Swiss embassy in Pretoria as an economic adviser.

Looking ahead she says there are signs of green shoots in international traffic returning to SA.

"Yes, public health challenges remain, but people want to travel and that is good for our international airline customers and in turn for us. There are also opportunities for us in terms of air cargo imported and exported to and from SA. Swissport is already present in many African countries," she says.

She is also passionate about the opportunity a company like Swissport SA can offer for skills development.

"Aviation offers various career opportunities due to our diverse operations. What Swiss companies do well is vocational training - like internships. We also participate in President Cyril Ramaphosa's Youth Employment Service (YES) initiative," she says.

"I am not only a South African, but a Pan-African. I believe we can learn from overseas expertise, but we can also add our own local valuable input. I believe Swissport SA is one of the best training grounds for a career in aviation. That is why I am excited about my new job."

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