Man behind the myth
Arranging an interview with Akbar Al Baker is akin to booking flights on Christmas Eve - laborious, frustrating and often fruitless. The CEO of Qatar Airways is notoriously difficult to pin down, unless the international media comes calling. Nevertheless, after months of trying, Aviation Business finally managed to secure a one-to-one with the airline chief late last year.
Aside from the usual questions about the airline's progress, the main query was whether rumours concerning Al Baker's no-nonsense attitude were accurate. Sources within the industry claim he isn't afraid to wield the axe if employees fail to maintain his high standards. During the 40 minute interview at Qatar Airways' Doha-based headquarters, there was little to support such suggestions. Al Baker was polite, courteous and willing to answer most questions.
But only minutes later, his reputation for adopting a hard line was apparent. The Qatari national quickly lost patience while waiting for a lift to reception. Once inside, Al Baker's presence appeared to overwhelm other occupants, with most desperate to get out as quickly as possible. There's little doubt that Al Baker is a dominant figure with a strong presence. But whether that's bad is debateable. In 11 years, the airline director has transformed Qatar Airways from a second rate carrier to one of the Middle East's leading operators.
The airline has secured critical acclaim from several quarters, with Qatar Airways the only Middle Eastern carrier to hold the five star award for excellence, service and high standards.
Meanwhile, the carrier climbed to fourth in the world's top airlines league. It was also named best airline in the Middle East and the industry's leading first class services provider during last year's SkyTrax awards.
With several accolades under his belt, it's unlikely Al Baker will pay too much attention to rumours concerning his temperament. And why should he? As long as Qatar Airways continues to expand, Al Baker needn't adapt his so-called heavy handed approach. Like the old adage states, if it isn't broken, don't fix it.