XO Exec Shows Value In Thinking Outside The Bizav Box
Providers of business-aviation services, equipment and expertise will always need to keep a step or two ahead of their customers' requirements, but holding on to the lead in a technology-driven industry does not always mean hiring staff with a purely technological focus. Youssef Mouallem, EMEA executive vice president of XO, is a case in point.
"My background is nothing to do with aviation,” he laughs—and though he may be exaggerating a little, his CV is not the one you might expect for the person heading up a key division of the Vista Global group of private-aviation companies.
After a couple of years streamlining supply-chain processes at Canadian training specialist CAE, Mouallem spent over a decade working for confectionary giant Mars. Between leaving them and joining XO in 2021, he ran the Middle East, Turkey and Africa division of domestic appliance manufacturer Dyson. What did he find, working in those very different markets, that he can apply to the business of selling seats, charters and memberships for one of the biggest global operators of private jets?
"Some of the similarities are in leveraging the industry knowledge," he says. "A big element of success [in consumer goods] is quality and distribution. For us to succeed with the XO business and achieve the aspirations that we've got, it's got to be a strong B2C [business-to-consumer] business. It depends on access—you've got to access as many people as possible. And there's nowhere that's as good a school as the consumer-goods industry in terms of penetration solutions.
"Then, thinking [about] how can I reach the biggest possible audience, I'll jump to the high-end tech experience with Dyson," he continues. "How do you make the experience, before you commit, so delightful that [the customer] cannot think but do it with us, and do it again? If you go into any Dyson store and you try a hair dryer or a vacuum cleaner, before you've dished out your 200 quid or your 500 dollars, you try it and you're mesmerized by the technology as well as the overall packaging, the design, the experience with the experts. And that's what we're building toward."
Mouallem explains that RISE—XO's entry-level product, with a modest annual membership fee, no deposit and no minimum number of hours to fly—allows newcomers to dip their toes into private aviation without having to make a substantial up-front commitment. And if the company is doing its job right, the experience they will get will be so good that they will soon return, and want the additional benefits that come with the Select, Signature and Elite memberships.
Certainly, the philosophy seems to be working. He says the company has had "about a 50% increase" in RISE members over the past year, and has seen 68% growth on its deposit memberships. His biggest challenge, he says, has been access to aircraft. Vista's acquisition of both Air Hamburg and Jet Edge will help on that front with those fleets soon to be added to the VistaJet and Red Wing aircraft, all of which XO can access.
Nevertheless, it would be a mistake to view XO—which Vista acquired in 2018—as, in effect, a gateway by which future VistaJet members first do business with the group. It is that too, Mouallem suggests, but it gives the group access to customers that the other divisions would struggle to reach.
"We address a different client base, further down the pyramid," Mouallem says. "People flying with VistaJet want 24hr guaranteed availability, they want the consistent fleet, the consistent service, which we do not offer at XO. I mean, that's part of the offering, but you could also be on an off-fleet tail, through our 2,100 alliance operators.
"The product offerings that we have—either full charter or crowdfunded flights or seat sharing—appeal to different audiences," he adds. "Someone who's looking to pay $1000-$1500 on a seat-share on a charter flight from New York to Miami, versus someone who's going to spend $200,000 flying from Europe to the U.S. We cover that spectrum. And as our client base grows, and as clients use the different products, some clients will qualify to be VistaJet program flyers. It's not kind of structured now, there is no specific way to do that, but that flexibility is there. And, likewise, these people could choose to go fly elsewhere. But we hope with the service that we offer them and the options that are there, that they'd like to stay within the family."