Arvind Jadhav isn’t an easy man to catch. We had tried several times to set up an interview with the 53-year-old chairman and managing director at his Air India building headquarters in Mumbai. But the man had his hands full. After many failed attempts, we managed to get his office to eke out time for us in the capital. On October 26, my colleague and Associate Editor Cuckoo Paul and I flew down to meet Jadhav. The meeting took place at Airline House, the erstwhile Indian Airlines headquarters, a slightly run-down building just off Parliament Street.
Jadhav probably has the toughest CEO job in the country. He’s inherited an airline with no sense of reality. Jadhav’s predecessors, Raghu Menon and V. Thulasidas, had almost run the operations to ground. Air India has accumulated losses of Rs. 9,200 crore — and just about enough cash to last another four months. Air India employees believe that the government will never allow them to go belly-up. Let alone make any sacrifices, the unions were ready to strike work at the least provocation. A lot of people suspect that they get tacit support from the government. Even now, Jadhav has the government constantly looking over his shoulders.
But he hasn’t wasted any time in identifying the root causes of the crisis and communicated the reality to all stakeholders in unequivocal terms. Cuckoo, who’s been closely tracking his progress, says that he’s ratcheted up the pressure on employees to raise performance levels. And some of that shock therapy is beginning to work. Serious questions are now being asked at the highest levels of the government about how things were allowed to come to such a pass.
But pulling Air India out of the quagmire will take at least three years. And as Jadhav himself admits, there’s absolutely no guarantee that he will succeed. But as Cuckoo’s cover story shows, the man is making a determined bid to save the airline. It’s time competent public sector CEOs like Jadhav got a lot more recognition
Correction: This article has been updated. Arvind Jadhav's predecessor was Raghu Menon and not Raghu Mohan as published earlier.
(This story appears in the 20 November, 2009 issue of Forbes India. You can buy our tablet version from Magzter.com. To visit our Archives, click here.)