Delhi airport’s Kiran Jain on being proud to be an Alpha Woman

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Lean Into Aviation (3)Grit, gumption, a get-up-and-go attitude, and an air of commitment surround Kiran Jain, head of marketing and route development for Delhi International Airport (DIAL), one of India’s four public-private airports and now the country’s busiest.

Under her guidance, flight frequencies at DIAL have increased from 765 scheduled daily movements in 2013 to 817 in 2014. Transfer passengers were up from 8.2% in 2011 to 18.6% in 2014. And the airport, through the efforts of her team added around 20 daily, nonstop services, says Jain. As a result, Delhi toppled market leader Mumbai for the first time with close to 40 million passengers against Mumbai’s 35.2 million.

The latest feather in Jain’s cap is her success in attracting India’s newest domestic airline, Vistara – a JV between Tata Group and Singapore Airlines – to choose Delhi as a base and hub for its Airbus A320 operations. This involved “supporting from inception their planners with market studies, competitive analysis on yield and fare; optimal seat configuration and air service destination and schedule roll out”, she says.

Vistara

Kiran Jain worked with Vistara on its DIAL launch

Pegasus Asia, a Kyrgyzstan airline, was also recently persuaded to start flights to Delhi. “You must have figures and facts to convince an airline the route will work,” notes Jain. To carriers like AirAsia India, which pulled out of Delhi citing high charges, she adds: “Watch this space.”

Today, her team at Delhi airport comprises all men, “not intentionally, but there are a few women doing this job in India”, she says, noting that “here if you don’t have the right support of the family, you can’t progress much”. It’s a paradigm that a growing body of people want to see change, and indeed, some airlines like SpiceJet are helping to lead the way.

Part of the fast emerging global citizen tribe – of fourth generation Indian descent – Jain was born to a traditional landowner family in Kenya, and is a US citizen. Her father raised his four daughters “like sons”, an approach she believes aided her success. “If I was conservative, I wouldn’t have made it. My father said to us we had to be better than men.”

Jain says she wore shorts all her life and until Class 4, wore the boys’ uniform. “I was a brat,” she says endearingly. “The first time I was fitted for a skirt was in the US where I completed my school education.”

Her colorful aviation career saw Jain take her first job at Air France subsidiary Jet Vacations, which ran charters for high net worth individuals. This gave her an opportunity to fly the Concorde. “I was 22 and broke but living life,” she quips.

During a stint at World Duty Free, she cultivated professional relationships with over 100 vendors, negotiated buy-back agreements, and product selection for a dozen international carriers. “I realized the art of negotiation was everything about human relationships and respect,” she says.

As general manager at New York’s Stewart International Airport, a charter service was started by Southwest Airlines to Florida and Las Vegas. Later, as director route marketing at Connecticut’s Bradley International Airport she persuaded Frontier Airlines to offer daily non-stop service to Denver and initiated the Air Service Incentive Program.

All this has prepared her for new challenges at DIAL. “In the United States I got exposure to philanthropy at every level with co-workers,” says Jain, who is putting these skills to use in Delhi.

Being ‘gender neutral’ in her way of thinking, she says the first time she felt like her gender was a point of interest or discussion was in India, where discrimination and women’s rights are in the fray. But she warns that gender shouldn’t be used as “a crutch” not to pursue your dreams.

Jain doesn’t apologize for her nature, and says proudly. “If you look at the traits of an Alpha Woman, I am one.”

Writer Brenda Della Casa in a Thought Catalog post about what it means to be an Alpha Woman, says such women “would never put their lives on hold to accommodate someone else’s idea of who they should be. Instead, they get into the driver’s seat, turn-up their favorite tunes and go in the direction of their dreams.”

This is very much in sync with Jain’s own mantra. “I follow my heart,” she says. “We cannot take our living casually.”

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