The next instalment of our Executive Profiles is now live! This time, we put the questions to Duncan Walker, Chief Executive Officer at Skyports.
We started these interviews as an informal way to get to know the industry’s thought leaders, innovators and influencers. Everything from their favourite bit of advice, book and holiday destination, to their top three challenges for the market and the biggest development to happen this year.
If you’re working in the industry and would like to be featured in these interviews, we’d love to hear from you! Please email email@example.com and one of the team will get back in touch.
Favourite holiday destination?
Sicily. My wife is Italian, and we spend as much time out there as we can. Great weather, great countryside, and fresh ricotta straight from our neighbour’s goat.
Favourite book or film?
Life is Beautiful. An Italian film about a father and son in a concentration camp. It’s a lot less depressing than it sounds.
Best bit of advice you’ve been given?
There are two. The first is less a bit of advice and more a way of working. Mike Slade was CEO of a property company where I spent a long time. He was the most charismatic leader I have met. He achieved more by being friendly, charming and gregarious than competitors who worked twice as hard. He could also get away with murder.
During the great financial crisis, the company had a £50m loan with Barclays Bank. Barclays sent a junior banker to discuss the loan and ask for repayment. Without blinking Mike got out the company cheque book, wrote a cheque for £50m handed it over and said “Darling (Mike called everyone darling, including me), take this to your boss and tell him we are never working with Barclays again”. Needless to say, there was not £50m waiting in the bank account, but he did it with such confidence that the bank never cashed the cheque assuming that the loan must be good.
The second is from Tony Ryan, via his son Dec, Skyports’ Chairman. That advice is simple – just jump. In most business decisions, particularly in a new industry like ours, there is more than one right answer and a lot more than one wrong answer. Often the biggest risk is doing nothing rather than doing something which may not be 100% right. Just jump.
If you could invite three guests to dinner, alive or dead, who would they be?
Nirmal Purja, the record holder for climbing the 14 peaks above 8,000 metres
James Dyson, for his ability to keep innovating until he gets what he wants
Paula Radcliffe, arguably one of the best marathon runners of all time
I am fascinated by how far people can push themselves, the risks they take in the pursuit of their goals and what it takes to be extraordinary.
More practically, I always look for these traits on a CV when hiring. Not everyone is a record-holding Olympian, but if the “other interest” section of the CV suggests someone is a bit nuts and prepared to do something at the weekend which requires dedication and effort, it’s a much better indicator of their likely success in the workplace than their academic qualifications.
Easy. I have a 2001 Land Rover Defender. 200,000km on the clock, zero modern technology, horrible to drive. I love it.
Describe Skyports in five words
Ambitious, Expert, Dynamic, Bold, Proactive
What is Skyports’ vision for the eVTOL and UAM market?
We just want to help make it happen quickly. Flying drones, building infrastructure, it’s all small steps in the bigger picture. I don’t believe in a world where the sky is dark with drones, but rather one where congested or underserved areas are more accessible in a way which is fast and environmentally friendly.
Most people don’t need their shampoo from Amazon to arrive in 30 minutes (which can already happen with ultra-quick delivery services in most cities), but people do need medicines to be delivered to remote communities, critical infrastructure to be monitored, and congestion and pollution to be taken off city streets. In short, we want to help the industry tackle problems that are real and impactful.
Proudest moment at Skyports so far?
Every week the Skyports team is working on something that is ‘first-of-its-kind’ or ‘never before seen’. First vertiport, our drone delivery work – none of it has been done before. It’s really hard, but when we achieve these milestones it’s a fantastic achievement for the team. I also love seeing how people can progress at Skyports. One of our key team members in the drone services business who leads some really high-profile projects for us had his 21st birthday a couple of weeks ago. He’s been with us for a number of years, and I still can’t quite believe he’s 21 and doing the work he does.
What does a typical day look like for you?
I travel a lot, so often it involves a plane or train somewhere. On a non-travel day, it goes something like:
Take the dogs for a run early in the morning to get back for breakfast with the kids before school. Cycle to work.
Then I work with the management teams in our offices around the world. In the morning I will spend time with the Singapore team, then Europe and the Middle East in the middle part of the day and the US team in the afternoon.
I don’t really like meetings, but I have a lot of them in the diary. I try to keep them really short, and action-focused. I often leave meetings after the first 15 minutes which is a tool to make sure we are covering the really important things up front.
I try to talk to at least two of our vehicle manufacturing partners each week. They are our customers, and we need to know them really well.
For our drone services business I always enjoy our operational updates where we review the week’s flying. That’s an exciting part of the business.
Most evenings I am a taxi service to a kid’s sports club.
Most interesting story about the industry that you’ve read?
SPAC mania was a short lived but really interesting time. As public companies, the OEMs are forced to share so much information which is great for the visibility of the industry, but I am concerned that the public markets (particularly bearish public markets) are not well suited to non-income producing new tech. There will be some great success stories but also some high-profile failures over the next couple of years.
Top three challenges for the industry?
Timing of certification for OEMs
Scaling to a point of commercial viability.
Where do you think the industry will be in the next five years?
We’ll see a number of the leading vehicle manufacturers certified and operational in a couple of markets. I hope that in this time frame, we will be on the cusp of serious ramp up as vehicle manufacturers are fully focused on mass production, the market pricing is accessible to many and AAM is providing genuine benefits to people’s lives.
We’ll also see a number of the OEMs still struggling for certification. The first mover cities will be established and there will be a big pull from the fast followers who recognise the benefits that AAM can bring to a city.
How can people get in contact with Skyports?
The best way is to email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or via our contact form on the Skyports website.
Biggest industry development you think will happen this year?
An emphasis on real life testing and integration. There has been a rush of activity, from technology developments for the passenger journey, to charging capabilities and airspace management systems, these innovations need to work together.
I’m also excited about the bigger payload drones that are coming through testing and certification. They could be a game changer in logistics networks, and we are spending a lot of time working with these manufacturers.