“Be an authentic and the best version of yourself”: inspirational stories on leadership from Anthony Price

24.04.2023 | 22:27 Home / News / Articles /
During his recent visit to the American University of Armenia, Mr. Antony Price, an accomplished leader and the CEO of Fly Arna, Armenia's national airline, shared with students some of his valuable insights on leadership. The talk entitled "Leading with a Global Mindset: Building a New National Airline Amidst Geo-Political Adversity" proceeded in an interactive question-and-answer mode.

Antony Price talked about the challenges of starting Fly Arna, the complexities of leadership in the current global context surrounding Armenia, and also shared some personal experiences that have contributed to his growth as a leader. The key moments of the speech were written down by Banks.am.

Over the course of my 25-year career in aviation, I have had the privilege of working for some of the world's leading airlines. I started with British Airways and later worked in Fly BMI and Air New Zealand and worked for Agoda part of the Booking.com family of Online Travel Agencies.

After, I also had the pleasure and opportunity to explore something entirely different when I joined Air Arabia, a Middle Eastern-based low-cost airline with several hubs worldwide, including Morocco, Egypt, Sharjah, Pakistan. Air Arabia is also one of the key investors in Fly Arna. I would like to share a couple of stories that highlight the differences in leadership styles that could be experienced while working in various countries around the world.

Turning losses into profits

Working for Air New Zealand in the UK I got my first real leadership role at a high level where my boss was 24 hours away on the other side of the world in New Zealand. What made this experience unique, was the business problem we faced - the UK sector of the business had been losing millions of dollars every year for the past 15 years. It was only kept because of the political and historical linkage between New Zealand and the UK.

As London connects to New Zealand via Los Angeles, prior to my arrival, they had been selling whatever tickets they could - to Los Angeles or New Zealand. Working with the team there, we came up with a new strategy. We realized that we had to be much more structured in the way we distributed and priced those tickets depending on the time of the year. So, at certain times of the year, we could get much better yields selling tickets from London to LA and back to London. And at other times of the year, we could get much better yields selling all the way through to New Zealand. The same was true vice versa. But we needed to have a much more professional inventory management approach. So, we put that in place from a pricing strategy, sales strategy, and marketing strategy.

I had a team of around 50 people in the commercial office and then 150 cabin crew based in London. They were great people and had a great working culture, but what I thought was really important was creating a very clear vision of the outcome and the result that we wanted to achieve. Then, we mapped out a process of getting there and empowered the people around the different functions, whether it was sales, marketing, or pricing, to ensure that they could all work together to achieve that goal.

The first year that I was there, we made a really small profit. But that was an amazing achievement to get out of losing millions of dollars. In the second year, we doubled that result, and for me, that was probably one of the proudest things before coming to Armenia because it was the culmination of leadership, strategy, and actually implementing activity that drove a strong outcome, whilst also focusing on developing people.

Putting yourself behind for others

Around 12 years ago, I was fortunate enough to join an expedition to Mount Everest with other Air New Zealand staff members. Whilst I was not part leadership team for the trek, during the 3-4 weeks of the expedition, people had built trust and respect toward me. I realized that they needed someone to help them in making a decision when we found ourselves in a difficult safety situation - to continue going up the mountain or turn back and go down, or allow the group to split into two.

I really wanted to get to the top of this mountain and see the breathtaking view of Mount Everest, but I knew there were people who would struggle and didn’t want to risk going higher. So sometimes you have to put other people’s goals, both individually and as a team before your own and make difficult decisions as a leader.

It proved to be the right and safe decision as several people were struggling by the time we arrived at the camp, while the ones who were feeling healthy achieved their goal and summited Kala Patthar.

Do I wish I had gotten the chance to get up there? Yes, I do. But I am still proud of the decision I made because it was the right one for the people in the group, and it was the right one for me as a conscious leader.

Stay true to yourself no matter how challenging the situation is

My next story is about leading with empathy and respect. The Los Angeles-based business I worked for was impacted by the economic crisis, which meant that we had to cut costs. As a result, I needed to reduce my team of around 50 people by 25%.

Antony Price


It is always a challenge for me when people have to leave a business not due to poor performance, but because the business cannot afford to keep them employed. Though I did not enjoy this experience, it indeed shaped me into the leader I am today.

Nowadays, we can see a glaring negative example of a social networking service that has laid off thousands of people worldwide without doing it in the most respectful, empathetic, or transparent way. They simply cut off people's access and said they were sorry to tell them they no longer have a job.

The company I worked for had a much stronger focus on people and a more empathetic approach, which I respected. We provided everyone with a clear picture of the business's challenges and why we needed to make a change. Then, we gave everyone a chance to deselect themselves if they had other job opportunities to pursue. However, even that did not leave us with enough people, so we had to go through a selection process.

We asked everyone to reapply and re-interview for their jobs. Although it was a difficult process, as many of them had been with the company for 15-20 years and were loyal, competent professionals, there was no other option left for us. But because we did it in a transparent and respectful way, treating everyone with dignity, even those who had to leave the company still had respect for the way we handled the situation.

In your future careers, you may face situations where you do not like what you have to do. What I always say is to stay true to yourself, and your worldviews by treating others with empathy and respect.

Navigating through crisis

It is a real pleasure and honor for me to be here to help Armenia build a new national airline. When the plan was being developed, the environment and landscape were quite different from what today we find ourselves in.

We had already sourced and leased 2 very nice new aircraft to come here and operate Fly Arna services but what started in Ukraine changed the whole situation. As the two planes were leased from a Western company, they were embargoed and not allowed to fly to Russia. So before even starting our journey we had to radically rethink the network we were going to operate and also the planes that we were going to bring. This was a pretty large hurdle to start with. Also, the conflict with Azerbaijan creates uncertainty by making our operation more complex.

So, as a leader, you always have to be able to pivot if things are not going the way you wanted. Different data points and different views might be thrown at you, but to manage the situation successfully sometimes you just have to zone out some of the noise and focus on the core principles of what your business is. The main questions to ask are the following: are your people safe? do you have enough money to keep operating the business and do you have the ability to keep moving forward? After dealing with this, you can take more time to analyze and work on other data.

One of the issues we found in Armenia was the lack of aviation policy and investment. As the Armenian Civil Aviation body is blacklisted from flying to Europe, that stops all Armenian registered airlines from flying to Europe. We are working closely with them and doing a number of audits to help them address some of the highlighted deficiencies and we are very confident that we will remove the blacklist for all Armenian companies in the coming months or maybe a year.

And the other challenge for us is that unfortunately, Armenia is a very expensive place to create an airline in terms of airport infrastructure charges, taxes, and fuel. When compared to Air Arabia’s other hubs in Morocco, Egypt, and the UAE, some of the costs in Armenia can be 50% higher. Nonetheless, we have been working tirelessly to find ways to overcome these challenges and create the airline in the most economical way possible because we take responsibility as the national airline. Fly Arna has been recognized by the Civil Aviation Committee as the model airline that other Armenian air companies should copy in terms of communication, safety and reporting, which was a great endorsement of how we are operating our airline.

The most difficult situations ensure the most significant lessons

If I can leave you with a couple of things, it is to be authentic and the best version of yourself. Don't try and copy someone else's style. Always try to think about the other person's perspective, be adaptable, and tailor your approach to the situation and the environment that you are in. An inspirational leader strives to uplift the people and foster a positive outlook on goals, leading to optimal growth of the organization.

The final and crucial point to keep in mind is to continue learning. The most significant learning experiences often occur during more difficult situations rather than easier ones. Thus, when facing difficult situations, strive to learn from them. As an airline, we follow this principle by conducting debriefing sessions whenever we encounter a situation that did not go according to plan. We analyze what happened and equip ourselves to prevent similar occurrences from happening again.

Gaiane Yenokian
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