When Tanya Pleshakova found a picture of an Aeroflot plane in her Russian textbook, she took up the issue with her first grade teacher. “What do you mean Aeroflot?!” Tanya demanded. “It should read Transaero instead!”
Clearly Olga Pleshakova, Tanya’s mother and general director of Transaero, has been working on her company’s brand awareness—both in her family and nationwide. In fact, Pleshakova admits to being very ambitious about building the Transaero brand. “I think there is Aeroflot, and then there is us ... In terms of business ideology and philosophy, our company has always been first in everything: service, advertising, code-sharing, introduction of a frequent flier program.”
In 1983, Pleshakova enrolled in the Moscow Institute of Aviation (MAI), she said, “in search of the romance of aviation, sincerely believing that one must create great winged machines.” She wrote her diploma on a rather ambitious yet secret topic—how best to defend the Soviet Far East from enemy cruise missiles.
Yet life made Pleshakova switch to civil aviation. Her husband, Alexander Pleshakov, founder of Transaero, brought her into his business in 1992 because he needed someone to deal with improving the airline’s service. Pleshakova remade the company’s image from a clean slate, bettering everything from the cutlery and drinks to the air hostesses’ uniforms. She then steadily climbed the corporate ladder: from senior specialist to first deputy general director.
In May 2001, Olga became general director of Transaero, the first woman to take on such a post in the Russian airline industry. In late 2001 she was included in the prestigious list of Russia’s top 1000 managers, which was compiled by the Association of Russian Managers and published in Kommersant daily.
Last November, Transaero celebrated its 10th anniversary of operation. Today, the company operates six Boeing-737s (all leased), and owns an IL-86. In 2000, Transaero carried 430,000 passengers and posted a R280 million ($9.56 million) profit. The results of 2001 were, Pleshakova admitted, “not so brilliant … We would like it to be better, but still, we carried 400,000 passengers, earned some profit and preserved the regularity of our flights ... Unfortunately, we were forced to return the Airbus-310 we had leased in December 2000, as the plane was too costly, especially after the September 11 crisis in aviation.”
Today the company’s main strategy is to replenish its fleet of mid-range planes, because all of Transaero’s routes entail less than four-and-a-half hours of flight time. The company is focusing on building its network in CIS countries, especially to and from such profitable destinations as Ukraine and Kazakhstan (where Transaero controls 70% of the market. The company also offers international flights to Strasbourg, London, Frankfurt, Israel and Cyprus.
“For three years we flew to Los Angeles in the US and even had plans to open New York and Chicago routes. But, we closed L.A. after the 1998 financial crisis in Russia, as we could not financially serve long-range planes. Thank you, Mr. Kirienko! He freed us from headaches and illusions.”
From her spacious office on Paveletskaya Plaza, Pleshakova manages some 800 employees. She said that her dream for the next decade is for Transaero to secure “a very stable financial situation with a reasonably-sized fleet and reasonable routes, without too much gigantomania. I want a planned, smooth development without crisis ... For 2002, we hope for a 10-15% increase both financially and in terms of passenger trips.” She also hopes the company will capitalize on last year’s relocation from Sheremetevo-I to Domodedovo airport. “Hard though it was,” she said, “I am convinced it will be good for us in the long term. This airport fits much better into our type of business approach. Plus, we had to part with Aeroflot airport-wise; historically, it was bound to happen.”
Mother of two daughters, Pleshakova confessed that she never had to fight for her rights, and has always luckily combined her motherly duties with her studies and career. “I never even took a maternity leave,” she said, recalling how she gave birth to her first daughter while still studying at the institute. “She was born during my exam session, on December 26, 1986—right after the exam in Communist Party history. I guess the child in me couldn’t bear this topic. On January 2, I was already taking my next exam in radioelectronics.”
Her first child, Tanya, is now studying at a preparatory school under the Financial Academy and wants to do a research project on an airline company. Her younger daughter, Natalia, dreams of becoming an air hostess. “I am not telling her as yet how hard a profession it is,” Pleshakova said. “But, of course, it feels good when children are interested in what their parents are doing.”
Russian Life is a 29-year-young, award-winning publishing house that creates a bimonthly magazine, books, maps, and other products for Russophiles the world over.
PO Box 567
Montpelier VT 05601-0567