Special Interview: Botond Melles, Country Manager Hungary, Air France KLM Delta

  • 7 Dec 2010 12:00 AM
Special Interview: Botond Melles, Country Manager Hungary, Air France KLM Delta
Mr Melles has been the Country Manager in Hungary for Air France KLM since August 2009. Originally from Székesfehérvár, he was born on 5 January, and attended the Teleki Blanka Gimnazium until 1998. He went on to read Business Studies at the International Business School in Budapest. He then starting his fast-track career with Nestle in the summer of 2002.

Have you ever lived abroad as an expat?
Well, I learnt to read and write Hungarian while living abroad. That was in Libya, where I lived as a small child, at that time there was a decent Hungarian community there. As a student I spent one year in upstate New York, as I got a scholarship from the Soros Foundation. As a working expat I lived in Paris at the start of my career, following that for a number of years I lived and worked for Nestle in Prague.

From the cities you've visited, which would you choose to live in as an expat?
Cape Town, Amsterdam, and New York are my all time favorite places so far. Of course I have many more places to visit.

Which destinations do you plan to visit?
Rio de Janeiro, as it's our new route for KLM. It is part of my business to travel to new destinations in our growing network. We already have over 240 destinations with Air France - KLM, and more than 350 with Delta so there are a lot of places I may visit. We have concluded a joint venture agreement with Delta Air Lines in 2009 that created the largest North Atlantic network in the World. KLM still keeps its own flights over the Atlantic, and is adding new routes gradually, for example to Miami, and so I may be going there too.

How long have you worked with KLM?
I have been with the company for over 5 years. At the beginning I was the marketing manager for the Central Europe region. In September 2009 I transferred to focus on the Hungarian market. The merger between KLM and Air-France was already done by that time so the new challenge for me as the country manager was to integrate Delta Air Lines into our group in Hungary. Then came the challenge of integrating our sales teams with Alitalia, which is a separate entity but we have a joint commercial activities in Hungary - we have joint contracts with travel agencies and a joint corporate offer on the market.

Not everybody becomes a country manager, what sets you apart from others?
Working for a company with both French and Dutch influence needs certain skills, I think I manage to understand both cultures quite well. One of the major objectives after the merger of Air France and KLM was to integrate the two different corporate cultures. Because of my international experience maybe I am more accustomed to a multicultural environment, and better able to deal with any related challenges. I understand all the airlines we represent are equally important. Social sensitivity helps too. Plus my understanding of Hungarian culture combined with all of the above gives me good cultural flexibility.

What would you say is the secret of your success?
I love the airline industry, and every aspect of this business interests me. What I learnt about marketing during my 6 years at Nestlé before joining KLM still serves me well today. At Air France-KLM Delta I find the service side of the business very exciting. It's actually a very complex business, especially the logistics and network planning behind it all, so I'm open to continuously learning. Overall, flying is in my heart, and being really passionate about my job could be a good reason for success.

You have a strong marketing background, has that helped in your career?
Yes, it's true, at Nestlé I was involved in multinational marketing with large budgets. My current job has comparably small marketing budgets, so to have an impact we need to be creative. Back in FMCG at Nestlé we actually managed considerable budgets, and spending them correctly was the core part of the job, as we needed a huge share-of-voice on the market. The means are so small in the airline business, at least in Hungary, that we can not afford such 'loud' communication, hence our creativity. In Hungary, while classical media is still strong, internet communications can offer real advantages.

How do you view the Internet, and business innovation in general?
After the travel agencies, the internet is now the most important part of our sales and marketing process. We have to keep in mind that a major concern of the Hungarian customer is how to safely pay online. Quite recently we finalized a deal with Raiffeisen Bank, and now they accept cash payments for any Air France - KLM - Delta tickets. That is at any of their branches around Hungary, meaning 144 locations nationwide, which is a very important step forward to us. This initiative was based on a realization of local market needs and a locally inspired solution from Air France - KLM Hungary. It is especially worth mentioning as that is quite rare since there are many standardized procedures in the airline business.

Has your choice of higher education assisted in your career?

I'm grateful for the International Business School in Budapest as it gave me a fast-track entry into industry, and the education there has definitely helped in my career. I developed there in a way that multinational companies appreciate. We were trained how to give good presentations as well as in the academic side of business administration.

There was a strong communications element in the BA Business Studies course - which was conducted all in English, a minimum requirement today in business. The theoretical background might not be as deep as at the University of Economics in Budapest, but the practical aspects of the BABS course makes it very relevant for the workplace.

Today as an employer I favor trainees from IBS as they are talented, hard-working students who can stay with Air-France KLM for one year. Over that time they can develop significantly, and the company can also get a real benefit from their work.

What's your biggest challenge at work?

In Hungary we have a relatively small office with 20 downtown, and 11 people at the airport. The fluctuation of staff in the company is very small. We have very experienced people, some of them with the company for 20 - 25 years. It's a fantastic opportunity to work with them, but now since the office is responsible for more airlines, and the same number of people, that creates challenges.

We do have more synergies to exploit. 5 years ago 3- 4% of our passengers were checking themselves in at the airport. These days we are proud to have 80-90%, a record high number in Budapest who check-in themselves, either online or at new terminals at the airport. Obviously this is a major labor and cost saving thanks to technology. And it's a win-win, passengers are in control, they can choose their own seat. Also these days' passengers can easily check-in with their mobile phone.

There might be more work, but we all love our jobs, and we are all motivated by the opportunity to travel. For example when we have a business target to meet, we often offer air-tickets to encourage high performance. An extra benefit of this incentive system is our team gets to sample our own product, often to new destinations. This helps us all to have up-to-date product knowledge, which is very useful in business when speaking with customers.

Which qualities do you value the most in your colleagues?
As we are ultimately a sales organization, it's important for everyone to have a sales focused attitude, to have sales running in their blood. I like my colleagues to be hungry for every single sale, every ticket counts, every new passenger is important for us.

Which achievement in your life are you most pleased about?
Bringing back the KLM blue birds to Budapest in OCT 2010!

CV for Botond Melles

Current Position:
Country Manager Hungary for AIR FRANCE-KLM
Since August 2009

Marketing & Communication Manager AIR FRANCE-KLM Central Europe
April 2007 — August 2009 (2 years 5 months)

Marketing & Communication manger for Central Europe.
Responsible for AIR FRANCE and KLM in 5 countries:
Hungary, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Romania and Poland.

July 2006 — March 2007 (9 months)

Customer relationship manger for Central Eastern Europe. Responsible for AIR FRANCE KLM's Flying Blue frequent flyer program. Directly responsible for 6 countries: Hungary, Czech Republic, Romania, Poland, Ukraine and Russia. Indirectly responsible for Croatia and Bulgaria.

Brand manager - MAGGI at Nestle - Czech Republic and Slovakia

August 2003 — June 2006 (2 years 11 months)

Responsible for the MAGGI and CARPATHIA branded soup products on the Czech and Slovak markets.
Main responsibilities: Strategic brand development, NPD, full P&L duty, product pricing, media planning, design development, supply chain coordination, trade marketing supervision, POS, POP creation, promotional planning.

Consumer Relationship manager Nestlé - Hungary
January 2002 — August 2003 (1 year 8 months)

Full responsibility of setting up Nestle Hungary's first multi-brand consumer -affinity based CRM program.
Database creation and development, communication planning, direct marketing strategy development. Database tools development with partner agency.

Consumer Relationship Manager - Nestlé - France
June 2002 — December 2002 (7 months)

Member of Nestlé France's consumer relationship marketing team. Responsible for the Club Nestlé direct marketing communication program. Datamining coordination, direct mailing development, internet communication development.

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