Leading through an existential crisis

Written by Mark Rowland Tuesday 17 May 2022
Ahsan Gulabkhan CMgr had to step up, along with many of his colleagues, to ensure the survival of Virgin Atlantic through two of the most difficult years in its existence
A Virgin Airlines airplane parked at a busy airport

This is an abridged version of an article that appeared in the CMI Spring 2022 member magazine. Become a member today to read the full version of this article and many more like it in your magazine homepage.

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On 17 March 2020, Virgin Atlantic effectively lost its reason to exist. The UK government, like many others, had advised against international travel. Virgin Atlantic’s primary source of income – passenger flights – was suddenly gone. While it shifted its efforts to focus on transporting cargo, including PPE equipment, around the world, the company had lost most of its usual routes.

For Ahsan Gulabkhan CMgr, associate general counsel for Virgin Atlantic, it was time to step up and focus on the company’s survival. With its primary sources of revenue effectively shut off, Ahsan was part of a team working to steer the business through.

“We had to focus on our own existence,” he says. “Cargo isn’t usually the dominant aspect of our operation. It was more than 600 days that we didn’t fly to the US, and that’s our main market. We didn’t get any public funding, so we needed a private solution, which for us was a private solvent recapitalisation.”

Mission impossible?

At the start of the pandemic, many thought this was an impossible task. It would require huge sacrifices and a lot of work for the company’s legal team, all while Ahsan was adapting to the pressures of being a new parent and undertaking an MBA.

It puts you under a microscope as a leader when you have to operate in such an extreme environment

Want to know how Ahsan got his team through?


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