INTERVIEW WITH JESSIE PAN, MANAGING DIRECTOR, ORIENTAL SIGNATURE
Interview by Roderick Li
Hosting countless corporate flight attendant (FA) interviews over the past 10 years while working at Metrojet and Deer Jet, Jessie Pan’s interviewees needed professional guidance. They all had similar, if not the same, background and working experience as cabin crew from major airlines and had no knowledge about the difference between providing service on a business jet on a commercial flight.
With this in mind, Jessie established Oriental Signature to cater to the needs of business aviation operators, saving companies the cost of on- the-job training, as well as the effort to filter down and handpick the right candidate from thousands of identical resumes. While there are plenty of long-established corporate FA training academies in Europe and the Americas, Asia has none. As such, Oriental Signature was founded to offer systematic training programs needed to deliver customer service to Asian VIP customers; designing a specialized curriculum — the Corporate Flight Attendant Signature Training (CFAST) — to fill this gap in the market.
What do trainees in the CFAST program learn?
The topics in CFAST are divided into two modules. The first is an Operational Module, where general industry knowledge such as OEM, FBO, operating procedure, menu design, etc will be taught. The second is the Butler Module, where students will learn about housekeeping techniques, including carpet cleaning, leather chair maintenance, butler etiquette, wine knowledge and more.
There are three levels in this program. The first level is the Foundation Program, which serves as a transition program to equip airline cabin crew to work on corporate jets. Trainees will be introduced to a real business jet and have hands-on learning about how to use the galley or to make beds. The second level is the Advanced Program, which is perfect for enhancement and refreshing training mostly for charter operators. This course touches on handling complaints, honing communication skills and cabin aesthetics. The third level, which is set to be launched in 2019, is the Train-the-Manager Program which is tailored for cabin managers or trainers. It explores advanced topics in aviation management including setting up standard operating procedures (SOPs), arranging rosters and contractual issues.
All three stages contain similar topics but different level of depth. For example, while the Foundation Program only teaches trainees how to serve wine, the Train-the-Manager Program includes a class on how to choose and appreciate wine.
Who are students being trained by?
I am the trainer of the overall program. Apart from qualifying in Hospitality Management at the University of Birmingham, I also hold a Wine & Spirit Education Trust (WSET) Level III certificate and engaged in advanced studies in Insititut Villa Pierrefeu, a world-class finishing school in Switzerland. Last year, I qualified as a butler at Savoy Butler in the UK, apprenticed to Patricia Perkins, a royal butler.
Guest instructors are also invited according to the course topic. For instance, in the Foundation Program in Hong Kong, which has just ended, we had the pleasure of learning from a Le Cordon Bleu Tokyo graduate who gave our trainees a lecture on plating. For the wine session, the guest instructor was a sommelier who had worked for Michelin-starred restaurants in Shanghai and Macau.
Where is the training conducted?
We organize the Foundation Program in Singapore, Beijing, Shenzhen and Hong Kong every three months. Singapore is an important market since there are quite a lot of business jet users travelling to and from Southeast Asia and the Middle East. We are working to standardize CFAST by providing the same training content in all cities, so if our trainee holds a CFAST certificate their expertise is recognized across borders no matter where the training was done. As for the Advanced Program, the location is subject to the need of our client, usually an organization or an operator.
What can a trainee expect upon completion of the CFAST foundation program?
This course is designed under the proposition that once a trainee completes the training, they will be capable of administering a single flight mission on their own.
Not only do we equip them with the knowledge and skills needed, but we also endeavor to enhance their career opportunities. In the past, we’ve had experience inviting recruiting panels from business jet operators to participate in networking events with our trainees. We now not only have interest from business aviation companies, but also superyacht companies seeking out stewards.
Which companies does oriental signature provide support to?
The CFAST Advanced Program mainly serves as B2B enhancement training for companies. Clients include: Avion Jet Limited, Apex Air Co., Ltd, Asia Flight Service, BAA Jet Management Limited, Crystal AirCruises, Metrojet Limited, Phoenix Jet Interior Design GMbH and Victoria Aviation.
What are the differences between Asian VIP clients and VIP clients from the us or Europe?
They have different service needs. Asian clients usually prefer Asian cuisine, which requires a whole different package of table set-up, menu design and wine pairing. Training provided in the US or Europe, however, only covers Western cuisine. FAs should be equipped with professional knowledge and skill set to juggle diverse catering demands from Asian VIP clients.
We have also observed that while US or European VIPs have relatively similar service needs, Asian clients have needs that vary according to their identity, background and purpose of the trip. For instance, millennials are heavily influenced by Western culture hence inclined toward a Western taste for interior and food. On the other hand, more experienced entrepreneurs who made it on their own treasure their roots so much that they are more satisfied with toned-down designs and simple comfort food. However, when they have guests on board, they demand their stewards to know how to pull off a lavish banquet. Another example is casino charter passengers; instead of refined, quality VIP services, what they ask for is efficiency and accuracy. Therefore, an excellent corporate FA must be versatile. Each UHNW client has specific needs that FAs must figure out and apply adwwjustments to the service provided.
How does oriental signature plan to evolve over the next few years?
In the aviation sector, we will not stop seeking partnerships with businesses which share the same faith – in an unyielding pursuit of details and quality of service. Apart from initiating the CFAST Train-the-Manager Program next year, we are envisioning to establish a membership program with fellow operators, where member operators will have an advantage in getting in touch with our trainees first and hiring their preferred candidates before their competitors make any moves.
We are also seeking to extend our experience with business jets to other high-end service industries. At the moment, we are in talks with yacht clubs, high-end clubhouses and a number of international hotel brand names.
As for our biggest wish, it would be to further enhance CFAST’s recognition in the industry, making it a qualification benchmark for corporate FA services.
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