APEX in Profile: Denise Poole

Image: Vance Walstra

Denise Poole
CEO
AMI Inflight and AMI Wines

Denise is passionate about food and travel, and has managed to combine the two in a career spanning 38 years. During her 22 years with AMI Group, she and her team have built a product portfolio across the US and Europe that now generates more than $180 million in sales annually.

Fast Facts:
Location: ATL
Now reading: Circling the Sun, Paula McLain
Brand of suitcase: Travelpro
Passport stamp you wish you had: Antarctica
The future of flight will be: Faster

What’s your philosophy on company culture and customer service?
Company culture is extremely important at AMI. I was the third employee in the company, and we now have 39. I can honestly say our culture has not changed. We are humble and treat one another like family. The family has grown, but we have managed to maintain the same caring spirit for each and every person. We have gone to great lengths to hire people who are the right fit. I tell each of them that there are no individual superstars at AMI: We, together, are superstars. We are in it together for the good times and the bad. This philosophy has served us well; it has allowed us to build a very successful company. The bottom line, for us, is not just profit – it is the success and happiness of our people. For customer service, it’s pretty simple: We will go to the ends of the Earth to make our customers’ jobs easier, to solve their problems, to find the things they need, to be there for advice. Whatever it takes, we are there to provide it quickly and easily every day, all year long.

“Airlines are making great strides through technology and the empowerment of their staff to make things easier.” – Denise Poole

What do you think is the most overlooked aspect of the passenger experience?
Empathy, but that is changing. Airlines are beginning to understand how travelers feel when a flight is canceled, when they need to be at a wedding, a funeral, an important business meeting. Airlines are making great strides through technology and the empowerment of their staff to make things easier. They have made “the rules” less restrictive, which is noticed and appreciated by their customers. All of these initiatives have brought a much-needed increase in level of service.

Can food and beverage offerings reinforce an airline’s brand?
Travelers don’t choose an airline because of food and beverage offerings. They want to reach their destination easily and on time. However, airlines are able to set themselves apart from a marketing perspective with their food and beverage offerings. The addition of menus designed by celebrity chefs, and being on the cutting edge of food trends, has helped to elevate the in-flight experience.

In the 2000s, US airlines removed nearly all food and snacks from the aircraft. What has the road to recovery been like?
It began with the removal of 75 percent of the food that had been offered, followed by buy-on-board programs. These changes prompted suppliers to change their models, and, in our case, we began to change our product portfolio. For example, airlines were no longer looking for a cookie at the lowest possible price; they were looking for a high-quality cookie they could sell for $3 in their retail programs. We have been doing this again and again over the last 15 years to meet the ever-changing needs of a more prosperous airline economy.

What’s something about airline food that only an industry insider would know?
The complexities are gigantic! An airline meal may be prepared at 4 a.m., loaded onto a cart and then stored in a cooler for hours before it is transported to the aircraft to then be heated on board by a flight attendant who has many issues to deal with, sometimes compromising how the meal turns out. The flying public has no idea what a meal must go through to get to their tray table.

“APEX in Profile: Denise Poole” was originally published in the 7.5 December/January issue of APEX Experience magazine.