Smiling through crises

The former CEO of Thailand’s Nok Air, Patee Sarasin, has launched a tell-all autobiography

Patee: "The book is controversial and will ruffle feathers, but it is a story that needs to be told." Credit: Patee Sarasin

The former CEO of Thailand's Nok Air has launched a tell-all autobiography, Smiling Through Turbulence. In his book, Mr Patee Sarasin, who is the founder of online travel agency, Really Really Cool, discussed the challenges and crises he experienced running the carrier.

"The book is controversial and will ruffle feathers, but it is a story that needs to be told," said Mr Patee. "It is ironic that we are launching the book now, when the aviation industry is experiencing a major global crisis caused by the coronavirus, because my book Smiling Through Turbulence, is all about crises that airlines go through. As an airline CEO you have to put on a brave face and take the brunt of any crisis affecting the airline, so the people who work for you can focus on their jobs which is caring for and helping the airline's passengers.

"People will judge you, not so much on the crisis itself, but on your response to it. In a crisis, you need think about what you, as a CEO and as an airline, can do to help others. It is not the crisis itself that is important, but how you deal with it. Airlines going through a crisis need to be responsive, flexible and to help people. But when it comes to helping people, you need to understand your constraints and what you can do effectively. Rather than try to do everything, you need to focus on what you can deliver on," he said.

Airlines are usually at the forefront of any global crisis and the current situation is no exception. "But airlines are very adept at dealing with crises and are resilient. I am confident that the global airline industry will recover strongly from the current crisis."

The book opens with the December 2004 tsunami that devastated parts Asia including some areas of southern Thailand. "Nok Air had launched only a few months prior to that catastrophe. The tsunami had a major impact on the airline's operations. It nearly wiped our business out," he said.

"We had already been losing money in 2007, when crude oil prices were around US$70 a barrel, but the higher fuel prices in 2008 exasperated the problem. It reached the point that in late 2008, when oil prices topped US$140 a barrel, we were on the brink of collapse. The airline was losing three million baht (US$100,000) a day, a lot of money for a small privately-owned carrier, and we only had enough cash left to last a few more weeks. It was the collapse of Lehman Brothers in September 2008 and the ensuing global financial crisis that saved us, because it suddenly caused oil prices to plummet," he said.