Q&A with Liana Coyne

Published: Thursday, November 14, 2019

Follow your passion. Do not allow other people’s limitations determine what you can or cannot do. Take every opportunity you can to learn. Keep trying and keep pushing so that you are not just the best woman for the job, but you are the best person for it – airplanes and cargo don’t care about your gender, they care about results.

ender imbalance in the global air cargo industry, which accounts for one-
third of all goods transported worldwide every year, remains very visible though the barrier for women have long been broken.
On many occasions, you will see only a handful of women executives participating in meetings or events, including female journalists covering the industry in contrast to the mainstream beats like business and politics.
In this edition, we speak candidly with Liana Coyne, Director of Coyne Airways, whose father, Larry Coyne, founded the company, the first of its kind in the emerging markets of the Caucuses, Central Asia and Russia’s Sakhalin Island, more than 25 years ago.

An Oxford graduate and an English-qualified lawyer, the multilingual Liana is one of few women in the air freight industry mirroring its changing dynamics where results are given more emphasis rather than gender. She helps oversee Coyne’s operations throughout the Gulf and Central Asia as well as difficult to reach destinations like Afghanistan, Iraq and various destinations in Africa.

Read on the rest of our interview with this progressive decision-maker juggling time between her family, work, friends and other interests.

Q. The air cargo industry has t r a d i t i o n a l l y b e e n m a l e – dominated and you’re one of few women in the top management level. What convinced you to take on the role of Coyne Airways director when you could have easily nurtured a career in the legal profession, after all, you’re an accomplished Oxford law graduate and had practiced being a lawyer in the past?

My father, Larry, established Coyne Airways 25 years ago, initially working out of a spare room at home. My father had a background in m a n a g e m e n t c o n s u l t a n c y a n d realized early on that whatever we did, had to deliver value to the client, be professional and stand for quality. That is why he put our name on the company; it could not be allowed to fail and it had to stand for something good – my father is one of 11 children and there would be simply too many relatives to apologize to otherwise.

Growing up, Coyne Airways was my father’s enduring obsession. Quite simply, it had to be. We are a niche operator and we do not have the luxury of resting on our laurels, secure in the knowledge that the business will just come to us. Many family dinner conversations were dominated by talk of air cargo (in fact, they still are).

My parents were keen for my sister and I to develop a strong work ethic. That meant that we were not given pocket money, we earned it. I spent many school holidays in my father’s office, and I would credit those times with my decision to study Russian at A-level and for my first year of university (although it is very rusty these days). The world of air cargo was filled with larger-than-life characters, drama and challenges, that played out on a daily basis. It was heady and intoxicating, but it was my Dad’s thing.

Like many children, I wanted to set off on my own path and it actually never occurred to me to join CoyneAirways. Besides, my parents never put any pressure on us to join or carry on their businesses and only told other people of their true wishes behind our backs. I studied Russian in my first year of university, and then switched to Politics, Philosophy and Economics. My graduation coincided with a recession and the closure of many training schemes. I did a personality test and (in probably a terrible commentary on my character) it suggested becoming a lawyer. I found an international law firm to fund my further study and train me, and I looked forward to a quiet life poring over tax codes and the like.

However, as a carrier focusing on difficult-to-reach destinations, our work can be difficult and very stressful – otherwise someone else would do it! As time went on and particularly after we had difficulties in the Dubai office, I could see that the stress was beginning to affect my father. I thought long and hard about it, and realized that it would provide him some peace of mind and relief to know that there would be someone he could trust there. From my side, I was never going to love any boss as much as I love my Dad and, worst case scenario, I could always go back to law after a year. Almost 10 years later though, I am still here and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Q. Do you see yourself one day going back to the legal profession? Why or why not?

Absolutely not. Don’t get me wrong, I loved law when I practiced it, but you are always on the sidelines. In logistics, you have to get involved and you have to find a way to make it work. It is entirely engaging and the people are great.

Q. Please describe to us how it is to work in the air cargo industry. Its joys and perils.

One of the joys about air cargo is the people who work in it. You will struggle to find a group that is more passionate and proud of what theydo. Every day is different, and there is always something new to contend with – especially as things can change over night : geo politics,natural disasters, operational issues – they all conspire to keep life interesting.

In terms of perils, I would mention two to be aware of: first, I think that you cannot think of air cargo as a ‘normal’ commercial environment. You have to remember that some of your competitors have other priorities over making a route profitable; there may be a political directive that they have to fly to a certain destination, they may have hours to burn, or there may be some ‘creative’ accounting at play to make a route look interesting when it is not. It is important to understand the dynamics and strategies of different entities.

Secondly, when you are in the industry, I think you have to be mindful that the inevitability of airfreight is a fallacy. We are the most expensive mode of transportation by far and we have to make sure that our service justifies the higher cost. That means, as an industry, ensuring that cargo arrives safely, securely and timely. Shippers will look for cheaper and better alternatives if we fail to deliver on basic promises,let alone value-added ones. We have to embrace improvements and keep looking for more. We have to lead the charge.

One of my best friends works in shipping and it is amazing (if sometimes worrying) to hear about the improvements happening there. In particular, there has been a lot of i n v e s t m e n t a r o u n d s h i p p i n g pharmaceuticals, which at one point were reassuringly assumed to always go by air. I am also fascinated by ethylene control technologies for shipping containers which preserves fruit and vegetables in transit. In short, I don’t think that we can assume that anything will always be air cargo.

Q. What advice would you give women who would like to build a career in the air cargo industry or aviation in general?

Go for it! Follow your passion. Do not allow other people’s limitations determine what you can or cannot do. Take every opportunity you can to learn. Keep trying and keep pushing so that you are not just the best woman for the job, but you are the best person for it – airplanes and cargo don’t care about your gender, they care about results.

Q. On a personal note, how has motherhood changed your outlook in business and in life in general?

Aside from a renewed love of sleep, motherhood has given me a greater understanding of all the demands that working parents have to contend with and a deeper appreciation of my colleagues ‘ commitment and dedication to their roles at work and at home.

Q. Coyne Airways is looked up to as the first of its kind in the emerging markets of the Caucuses, Central Asia and Sakhalin Island more than 25 years ago. What is your vision for the company in the future? Please share with us the latest developments on its products and services.

We hope to launch our new website shortly, which will also have improved track and trace capability as we combine forces with Descartes. That functionality will also copy over to our app, and other automated services.

In the New Year, we hope to bolster our services to the Caspian Sea region with an additional rotation to our hub in Tbilisi, Georgia, to better serve our customers there and in Armenia, Azerbaijan and Western Kazakhstan.