This interview was also published in Karyawan, A Magazine by the Association of Muslim Professionals (AMP), January 2017, Volume 12, Issue 1
The private aviation industry is facing increased competition and greater challenges such as external security threats and global economic uncertainties that make it a boom-or-bust industry. It also faces issues like high barriers to entry and start-up costs, making it a highly competitive and challenging environment to thrive in.
To succeed, one needs vision and commitment, as well as a never –say-die attitude.
Captain Gibbrael Isaak is a shining example of an entrepreneur who has succeeded in removing the barriers to success. With a growing fleet and business, he has thrived despite the challenges faced in the aviation industry.
Shaking the skies
Captain Gibbrael is President Director of Tri-MG Intra-Asia Airlines and an entrepreneur with an expansive portfolio. He has been in the industry for 23 years and began his career working for his father. In 1993, he took the leap and took over his father’s business, further developing it. Captain Gibbrael’s strong work ethic and integrity have earned him a number of awards and commendations. In April 2016, Tri-MG Intra-Asia Airlines, was recognized as one of the strongest growing airlines for cargo carriage, earning its place in the Top 5 Cargo Airlines by Absolute Cargo in the Changi Airlines Awards, awarded by the Changi Airport Group (CAG). In October 1996, he received the Entrepreneur of the Year award from the Singapore Malay Chamber of Commerce and Industry (SMCCI).
Cleared for takeoff
Tri-MG Intra-Asia Airlines mainly operates cargo aircraft from and within Indonesia to different airports in the ASEAN region and other destinations. Apart from cargo flights, it also operates light passenger aircraft and provides medical evacuation services (Medivac in short) for airlifting patients on special charters for hospitalization and treatment.
The firm’s vast experience in Indonesia then encouraged the team to expand its services into Singapore. A spin-off was birthed – Aero Speed Aviation Pte.Ltd – which was established to provide a one-stop service for freight import and export, and a wide range of logistics services mainly in and out of Indonesia. The firm has group officers stationed in various Southeast Asian (SEA) countries as well as a worldwide network of affiliated airlines, agents and partners.
The Karyawan team recently spoke with Captain Gibbrael in his cosy office in North Bridge Road. The aviation entrepreneur lent his wisdom and shared stories about the unique challenges and opportunities in operating the long-standing family-owned aviation business as well as his thoughts on the future.
Q: Could you walk us through your daily schedule?
Captain Gibbrael (CG): While I try to have my days planned at the beginning of the year, and throughout the months, it changes all the time as I travel a lot. As a backup pilot, I have to fit in commercial flight operations from time to time. I travel mostly within Southeast Asia and Jakarta where our main office, which has a staff strength of 125, is located.
Q: What do you do outside of work?
CG: I have a really tough schedule, being in an industry that functions round-the-clock.
When I’m not working, I like boating and fishing. I will go to Sentosa and taking my boat out. I don’t get a lot of family time but I try my best to be home every Saturday to spend time with the family before I go off to work again.
Q: What got you interested in aviation?
CG: I have always been interested in flying since I was young and I still have a keen interest in the technical design and aesthetics of an aircraft. The fact that my dad had a business in aviation industry further fueled my interest.
My dad started the business in 1971 dealing with cargo freight. Every Saturday, I would look forward to being at Seletar Airport, where the operation was, with my dad. I started working for him in 1993, and soon after, I took over the business and made changes to it. I got my pilot’s licence and the company earned our our certificates to operate our own airliner.
Back then, we only operated between Singapore and Indonesia but now we have expanded further into Southeast Asia, Middle East and Europe.
Q: What are some of the challenges that you have encountered, if any, and how did you overcome them?
CG: The challenge comes when the aircrafts do not fly but our costs are still running. We just have to be tactful and do our research. We encountered tough times back in 2008 due to the global financial crisis. But we do not worry about the things we cannot control. Instead, we remain focused and committed and continue to work hard.
Q: Who has inspired you throughout your entrepreneurial journey?
CG: From the aviation industry, I admire Richard Branson, a most famous mega-entrepreneur. I learnt a number of lessons on aviation business and innovation from him.
Q: What has been your most satisfying moment throughout your life as an entrepreneur?
CG: I would say the most satisfying moment was the time we got our first aircraft in the mid ‘90s. It was definitely the happiest day in my life and one of our biggest achievements.
Q: Are you leveraging on any technology to improve business productivity?
CG: Currently, booking of cargo freights is done through email. We are currently working on introducing an app to facilitate reservations and booking processes.
As a multi-faceted medical hub, Singapore attracts a growing number of international patients for a whole range of treatments in the booming medical tourism trade. Hence, apart from cargo, we also provide medical and private transportation services. We have an average of 20-30 medical flights transporting patients in a month. In fact, we will be adding another plane for this service as we are expecting to receive twice the number of bookings for such flights in 2017.
Q: Where do you see yourself and your business in years to come?
CG: My target is to get into larger scale aircraft, expand our fleet and territories in the future to further secure our position at the head of the field. We have a total of nine aircrafts now with one more private jet coming in soon. We hope to bring more in.
Q: There is a perception that the Malay / Muslim community face challenges in thriving, or even entering the aviation industry. What is your opinion on this and what is your advice for our Malay / Muslim youths who wish to start a business?
CG: We do face challenges, and that we have to work doubly hard at times. I do see a lot of potential within the community and they are doing well in other areas such as food and beverage and clothing businesses.
It was tough in the beginning and we encountered multiple setbacks but eventually we became international players and now park our aircraft in Changi Airport. We have daily flights and recently, CAG awarded us for having one of the top 5 business cargo growth, ahead of Cargolux, one of the largest cargo carriers in the world. That meant a lot to us, especially in Singapore, and we were very happy. Hopefully we will continue to grow despite the unpredictable market.
To be successful, one must have good intentions. We should not just duplicate the work of others. Whoever wants to get into this business or any other business has to be really good at it first, work hard, and be disciplined. Always be truthful and trustworthy. Build your name slowly and opportunities will come, Insha’Allah.
Nabilah Mohammad is a Research Analyst at the Centre for Research on Islamic and Malay Affairs (RIMA). She graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Psychology and a Specialist Diploma in Statistics and Data Mining.
Photo Credit: Karyawan/Captain Gibbrael Isaak