Steve King, Black Swan

What We’re Made Of is a Q&A series that looks at how companies in the aviation industry are tackling challenges brought on by the COVID–19 pandemic. We’ve had to adapt to changes in where, when and how we work, but we are resilient. If you would like to share your experience, e-mail editor@apex.aero.

Steve King
CEO, Black Swan
Location: London
Day 11 of working from home
Date of writing: April 6

Are you in lockdown right now?
Yes

Where are you writing from?
A shed at the bottom of the garden.

How are you trying to maintain “business as usual” or communicating with your team?
We host a “Daily Swan” where we give honest, funny and random updates on Zoom to our 300 Swans.

What’s your new office attire or go-to comforts during this time?
Jeans and a black t-shirt. Wait… that’s all I have.

Have you or anyone you know been directly affected by COVID-19?
Not yet.

What news outlets are you following?
Google News, BBC.

How are you passing time?
Lego and Disney+.

“We are predicting a very different future compared to 90 days ago. There’s very little data of what the world will be like. We have had to change our algorithms to predict the future more accurately.”

Describe where your business was at the end of 2019. What were your goals/projections for 2020?
We certainly aren’t where we thought we’d be. We’ve had an average 300% growth in the last six years, but a 30% revenue drop this year.

Can you share some specific challenges your business has faced as a result of the outbreak? How did you overcome them and how can the industry learn from your experiences?
Luckily, we’re pretty used to working remotely, so the company didn’t even notice the office change. We were strangely more productive in March 2020 than in the last two years in delivery. Our biggest issue has been to change our product for the new context. The fast COVID-19 spread has meant we are predicting a very different future compared to 90 days ago. There’s very little data of what the world will be like, yet we have had to find it and change our algorithms to predict the future more accurately.

What’s one thing you would do to better prepare your business to weather a similar storm in the future?
I’m not sure any of us could have prepared for this. Perhaps have more cash in the bank, as always.

How can we, as an industry, work together and rebound from this unprecedented crisis?
We need to work harder to create more revenue opportunities for our airlines and be more efficient with our waste.

Can you give an example of generosity or kindness displayed by your company or one of your colleagues during this crisis?
It’s been amazing. All of our people have been an inspiration, taking pay cuts over losing fellow Swans, volunteering salary into our COVID-19 emergency fund. I couldn’t be more proud.

What has your company done to join the efforts to combat the spread of coronavirus?
The charity we set up called White Swan has been working on projects from the White House and National Health Service that use our technology to help spot people with symptoms in social and journal channels.

How do you feel about your government’s response to the crisis?
I think the UK government has done a good job. It’s a tough brief and you’ll never get it all right.

Where do you see your company or the industry in six months from now? One year?
In six months, we’ll be making up for lost time.

What’s one thing that will never be the same again for commercial aviation?
I don’t think we’ll see anything free soon after.

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