This month should have seen Martin Thomsen relocating to the UK for his new role as Air bp’s CEO. Instead, as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, he is staying put in Switzerland where he currently lives with his wife and three children aged 15, 13 and 11.
“COVID-19 has impacted so many people and businesses in many different ways,” Thomsen says. “It’s important to keep looking forward, so the plan is that I will move to the UK by the end of the year.”
Although new to the aviation industry, 48-year-old Thomsen has been with bp for 15 years.
“I’ve always been in the energy sector,” he reveals. “My first job was in Argentina working in the natural gas sector. Then I moved to Europe where I’ve held different roles ranging from bp’s fuel retail operations manager in Spain to my most recent position as general manager bp fuels, Austria, Switzerland and Turkey."
Born in Brazil to an Argentinian-Italian mother and a German father, Thomsen holds a Master of Engineering Science from the Instituto Tecnológico, Buenos Aires, and is an alumnus of the Harvard Business School Program for Leadership Development.
“My multicultural background means I have a good understanding of different countries and cultures. And, my experience living and working in Turkey has also helped me appreciate the differences between emerging and mature markets.”
As for languages? Thomsen reveals that he speaks
“a little Portuguese, a little English, a little Spanish (my wife is originally from Spain), a little German and a little Turkish.”
Although if his English is anything to go by a little actually means pretty fluent!
Working in a global business is all part of the appeal for Thomsen.
“My day might start with a 7am call to Australia, then I’ll be on the phone to someone in China. Next up is Dubai, then Europe and finally someone in North or South America before I call it a day. The global nature of Air bp’s business is certainly something that interests me.”
Inevitably, stepping into a high-profile role in an industry that is currently experiencing the worst downturn in its history is not without its challenges.
“These are unprecedented times,” agrees Thomsen. “The biggest challenge for me will be how we continue to steer Air bp out of this crisis as a sustainable, growing business fit for the future. Aviation has faced a number of challenges in recent years from 9/11 to SARS and now coronavirus. But the industry is resilient, and passengers will return to the skies. Air bp’s role is to continue providing safe, efficient and reliable fuelling services and to work closely with our customers. It’s also about being leaders in sustainability. Not just in terms of profitability, but also in terms of how we play our part in bp’s new purpose to reimagine energy and its ambition to become a net zero company by 2050 or sooner, and to help the world get to net zero..”
With sustainability firmly at the top of Air bp’s agenda Thomsen states:
“Our focus is on how we can increase our supply of sustainable aviation fuel (SAF); how we can pursue low carbon activities across the business; and how we can assist and support our customers in achieving their sustainability goals.”
He adds that collaboration is key to achieving the industry’s net zero goals by 2050.
“We want to create our own cleaner, greener, more efficient aviation landscape. However, it’s also about working with all our stakeholders from government bodies to customers, to our own employees and society as a whole. It’s only by working together that the industry will achieve net zero emissions by 2050.”
While he brings a wealth of expertise to the table, Thomsen underlines that he is looking forward to gaining a greater understanding of how the operational side of Air bp’s business works.
“I’m keen to see how our operations work in the different regions across our global network and what, if any, particular challenges each region faces. I’m also looking forward to meeting our customers, seeing how we can better support them and what additional solutions we can provide. I’m a people person so as well as the customers, I can’t wait to meet the Air bp team across the globe,” he enthuses.
As for whether or not he’s ever been keen to take the controls in the cockpit?
“I’ve always dreamt of being a pilot. I love the idea of sitting in the cockpit and understanding how it all works. It hasn’t happened yet, but never say never!”
In the meantime, Thomsen is happy being the passenger. As soon as he’s able, he plans to travel to the Nordics and the Americas to meet the teams there and gain a better understanding of those markets and how they operate. He also reveals that Asia Pacific – a destination he’s only ever visited on honeymoon – is a part of the world that has always fascinated him.
“Now I have a great reason to go back. I’m really keen to visit China, as well as Australia and New Zealand. The latter two are both good destinations for rugby lovers,” he says, explaining that his grandfather was an Argentinian national player.
A keen rugby player himself until about five years ago Thomsen concludes he still likes to stay fit and healthy.
“Running and going to the gym are both ways in which I like to unwind. It’s important to disconnect from the workplace from time to time and a healthy body is a healthy mind.”
For more exclusive interviews click here.