SBE alumnus Jan Willem Kappes: From a childhood passion for planes to a career in the aviation industry

SBE Alumni: We Go Places! Graduates of SBE launch careers all over the world in a broad range of industries. This month, we are featuring alumni who have combined their talent for business and finance with their passion for exploring the world, and found success working in very different roles in the travel industry.

From a very early age, SBE alumnus Jan Willem Kappes was interested in the aviation industry. “I think when I was a child it was more the fascination with flying and aircraft,” he says. “In the beginning, I wanted to become a pilot. But already during high school I realised that I was more intrigued and interested in the whole business side behind the curtain than actually flying.”

3e0a8776-6dde-416a-9eb8-3b9ce9d1ed63After completing his bachelor’s in International Business at Maastricht University School of Business and Economics (SBE) in 2008, Kappes went on to earn a far more niche master’s degree in Air Transport Management. Today, he is a business development manager for INFORM GmbH, a German IT company. “We develop software to optimize processes within that airline industry,” he explains. “That sounds very abstract, but for example when you see an aircraft on the ground and you see all the equipment around it, all the staff that is required to turn an aircraft around, we provide the software that optimises the usage of staff and equipment to make sure that everyone is doing the right task at the right time at the right spot and this is something that we do very well.”

“The aviation industry is rather small compared with other industries,” he explains. “And It’s also very global. So if, for example, you look at the German market, you only have a limited number of players. The same goes for other countries as well. So in order to do business in this industry, you have to think and act globally. I think that’s one of the points that most of the people I know who are working in the industry like very much.”

Complex safety concerns make the industry unique from others, he says. “You cannot be as let’s say innovative and fast-paced as you can be in say the IT industry,” he explains. “Because safety is the overall topic, so getting new technology into the industry always requires first proving that the technology is safe. So the industry uses extremely specific, dedicated systems; very specific, dedicated processes that are not common in other industries. It’s definitely unique to the aviation industry.”

As for how the aviation industry as a whole is faring, Kappes is optimistic. “Consistency is not something the aviation industry is prone to,” he says. “The beginning of the 2000s and until four or five years ago was a bad time for the industry, starting with 9/11. The demand dropped then again during the financial crisis of 2008. Many players had to leave the market.”

This, he explains, was primarily due to the arrival of new low-cost carriers, such as Ryan Air and easyJet. “They had a new business model: very low costs and therefore low fares,” he says. “And then you had your incumbent airlines, such as Lufthansa, that were still – especially in 2001 –working on their business processes as they had done for the last forty years.”

planeThe aviation industry in Europe was only deregulated in 1997, and until then everybody flew according to fixed price quotas, Kappes explains. “But over the last three of four years, the price of oil has come down considerably,” he says, “and because the large airlines now also have measures in place to reduce costs, I think last year was one of the most financially successful years for aviation in the industry’s history.”

And Kappes’ fascination with the industry has remained strong. “Even today I still love to be in an airplane,” he says, “to be at an airport, to travel, but it’s still the actual business behind the scenes that is most interesting to me.”

Jan Willem Kappes graduated BSc International Business (2008) at Maastricht University School of Business and Economics. He is a Business Development Manager Aviation at INFORM GmbH in Frankfurt.

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