July 29, 2019 – They are the global leaders in the aviation data industry, have an expanding subsidiary in Zagreb, and they are looking for more talented Croatian staff. Meet ch-aviation.
Croatia never ceases to amaze, all the more so for me when I stopped focusing 100% on tourism and started to explore what the world of Croatian business and entrepreneurship had to offer.
It was quite extraordinary. I met a Syrian based in Vukovar employing 750 people, a Brit just outside Zagreb with the biggest baklava factory in Europe, and a Zagreb company which was a fintech global leader with foreign staff from no less than 24 countries, just as all Croatia’s talent is emigrating. Extraordinary.
And then there was ch-aviation.
I first cam across the ch-aviation website about six years ago, and I was thrilled. Here was a bunch of very efficient Swiss guys posting the latest information about flight news before anyone else. Their knowledge of the seaplane situation was detailed. They became the easiest blogs of the week, and I was often first with the information almost every time. German Wings has announced five new summer routes to Croatia, that kind of thing.
God Bless Switzerland and your efficiency and great work ethic. If only we had that in Croatia.
So imagine my surprise last year when I got an email from CEO Thomas Jaeger and CCO Max Oldorf saying that would be in Zagreb on a certain date and would like to meet. Zagreb? I thought to myself. Well, I guess if you are in the aviation business, it made sense to travel and keep in touch with the latest. We agreed a meeting place, after which Oldorf gave a GREAT TCN interview on why the seaplanes failed and whether or not they would fly again.
And that’s when I was amazed all over again, because it turns out that they are regular visitors to Zagreb, because the Croatian capital is their main subsidiary outside their Swiss base. They hired Croatian staff, then hired more, and as they continue with their rapid expansion, they are looking to hire even more.
I went to visit them recently at their office in Zagreb, where CEO Jaeger and Chief Operating Officer Sanja Ples kindly agreed to tell me more.
Aviation data – firstly tell us who you are, what you do, and who uses your services?
Thomas Jaeger: I started ch-aviation as a hobby in the small city of Chur in Switzerland more than 20 years ago – back in 1998. Now it is a bit of a hobby blown out of proportion as we have hundreds of customers around the globe, including airlines, airports, finance and leasing companies, aircraft manufacturers and maintenance organizations for example. Our subscriber list includes worldwide known brands such as Airbus, Fraport, Delta Air Lines, and DHL, but also many industry leading companies that are maybe less known to the general public like the largest aircraft lessor in the world, AerCap.
We are providing decision-makers in the airline industry with relevant and up-to-date airline intelligence and insightful news. We collect, process, verify and make available tons of data in an easy searchable form to industry stakeholders. On our website www.ch-aviation.com, we run an extensive IaaS (Information as a Service) business where people can subscribe to get access to our Airline Industry News and Data.
For example, we track more than 50,000 aircraft worldwide (that’s actually every commercial aircraft with more than 20 seats) and provide the most current and reliable database in the industry for our subscribers. Our customers are also able to access schedules, capacity data, airline and aircraft owner’s contact information and other industry related information.
The company is privately held, led by me and two other aviation professionals from Switzerland.
You are from Switzerland and are a global leader in your industry, and yet you chose to base your business in Zagreb, which is an interesting choice. Why?
Thomas Jaeger: We started our subsidiary in Zagreb back in 2016 and we saw a possibility to build large aviation data hub here. We are now employing almost 20 people here, mainly data researchers and analysts as well as our colleagues in sales. Our decision back then was based on the fact where we are able to find enough talent to work with aviation data and a place which is conveniently accessible from Switzerland and aviation hubs in Europe. Of course it also helped that Sanja, who runs the operations for us here in Zagreb, had been a customer of ours for many years already at the time and someone all of us personally knew well, so we also had a good base to start from in that sense.
How are things working out with a Croatian base?
Sanja Ples: I am more than satisfied with our investment so far having recruited more than 20 highly qualified people here. We see many well-educated Croatians who are eager to work in the fast-growing aviation industry. We are committed to our decision to grow here and we expect we will be able to grow our team in Zagreb.
Tell us about your staff. How many locals are working for you and how quickly are you expanding?
Sanja Ples: We opened our office in Zagreb back in 2016 and now we have close to 20 people working here. The aviation sector is growing tremendously worldwide, and we are able to grow our business, so we expect to grow our team by a third each year locally as well. We are constantly looking for data researchers and sales managers to join our growing team in Croatia.
Your experience of a primarily Croatian workforce so far? What are the pros and cons?
Thomas Jaeger: We are able to recruit high-quality people, especially young ones coming directly out of the universities, eager to learn and loving aviation. We do not expect to have a great pool of people with the aviation and research knowledge available to jump into our processes and start contributing on a high level immediately. And that is also a point where we struggle the most: finding experienced management for the Croatian entity which is still rapidly growing. So, we have to develop and foster our own middle management talents in-house and have done so very successfully.
The strict governmental employment regulations and high taxes are also amongst issues we are facing. After a certain paygrade level, the Croatian employees are getting much more expensive than their European counterparts and getting people to relocate to Zagreb from elsewhere in Europe is also rather difficult as a result. That limits the opportunity of having high paid jobs developing in Croatia. That is probably the most frustrating part of the growth process, especially as one can see a great pool of motivated and eager-to-learn youngsters that show a high level of loyalty to the company.
Several IT companies in Croatia have complained at how hard it is to find high-quality staff, as so many people are emigrating in search of better-paid opportunities. What is your experience, and how are you finding staff?
Thomas Jaeger: There is a similar issue with most of the countries in Central and Eastern Europe – it is natural people are always searching for better opportunities for them. At the same time this is an opportunity for us – thanks to our investment in Croatia we can offer a very good alternative to stay here.
Since we started the operations here in Zagreb, the workforce situation has changed a lot. In the first employment rounds, we have had a tremendous volume of applications to process and to choose from. It would be unfair to claim the situation was bad right now, but the volume has visibly dropped.
I understand that you are constantly on the lookout for bright new Croatian talent – what skills and experience should interested candidates possess?
Sanja Ples: First, we need to start from the basics – English is the language for the aviation business and fluency both oral and written is a must. Being in the data business, we are usually expecting our future employees to be able to manage large amounts of data, to be able collect, organize and evaluate data using critical thinking. And last, but not least, you need to have some passion for aviation to join this industry.
If you are looking to learn more about either job opportunities or the best aviation data, you can contact ch-aviation via the official website.
To learn more about foreign entrepreneurs in Croatia, follow the dedicated TCN series.