The Portraits of Changemakers series focuses on visionary individuals who work at Aero Mag and who, every day, demonstrate a willingness to make a difference in the world. Among them, James Webb, Operations Manager at our Heathrow station (LHR) in London, UK. After learning the ropes with his father as a mentor, he can now pass down this knowledge to his team of deicers.
James has been working at Aero Mag for almost three years now, but has been in the deicing industry since 2010. His main responsibility as the operations manager of LHR is to care for a team of 18 employees. On a daily basis, James makes sure they have whatever resources they need to perform efficiently.
James also supports the general manager of the Heathrow station, with whom he works very closely. “He relies on me and I rely on him to fill in the gaps and not miss anything.” The operations manager also acts as the focal point for Aero Mag’s customers and ensures that all procedures and standards are maintained.
When asked about his strengths, James replies compliance, health and safety as well as a passion for the industry as a whole “because deicing is in your blood.” And in his case, quite literally.
James started deicing at 19 years old within a small family-run business in Luton, UK mostly working in the general aviation sector and private jets. “Once I sprayed my first five aircraft, I quickly found that I really enjoyed this!” In Luton, he also had the privilege of deicing along with his father, who became his mentor. “He was my second deicing trainer. We worked really well together.”
It was very important for James to earn the respect of the deicing community by showing his peers that he was in it for the long term. “You kind of have to prove yourself, which I believe I did when I was younger, starting as a deicer.”
James was happy in Luton and moving up ranks, until one day he encountered a job offer for LHR on a notice board at Luton Airport. “I kind of panicked and took a leap of faith.” He applied for the job and was hired at the UK’s largest airport. “It was a massive step up for me. It was a lot to learn and it was a big learning curve to overcome.”
James has now been working on the grounds of Heathrow Airport for about seven years, even though he hasn’t really left Luton completely. “I commute every day from Luton, which is about an hour away, each day. So I’m committed! [laughs]”
When he joined Aero Mag, James and his team at the Heathrow station started fresh. “We picked up the station and brought it a long way to build full confidence in our employees and customers.” Having a challenge from day one didn’t stop James at all, on the contrary: “I always strive for improvement, for the industry and station.”
A great example of this is the new safety training developed by James for LHR, which has elevated the health and safety at the station to a robust standard. “When I got there, the health and safety needed to be improved so I went ahead and did that, as well as the quality assurance side.” But when it comes to innovation, it doesn’t always have to do with a new process. For James, change can also come from positive leadership.
From his own account, James wouldn’t call himself a manager: he is a leader.
“I do like to lead my team. Sometimes it takes an individual with a different perspective to engage with the team and affect change.”
Respect is key for James when it comes to leading his team of 18 employees at the station. “My family taught me the value of respect. The respect I get from my colleagues is second to none and I’m really proud to know that they trust me.”
Speaking about colleagues, James is adamant about the quality of the people he has worked with over the last three years at Aero Mag. The commitment of each individual that works for the company is truly something that makes him proud.
“We show a lot of values that other businesses don’t, like respect, safety, social responsibility and environmental responsibility.”
Despite the distance between Aero Mag’s 17 stations, James feels like he is part of a team. “Even with different stations in different parts of the world, I feel like everyone is bringing something to the table, which is important. Progressing and moving forward, we do that by learning from each other.”
This knowledge pool allows the deicing company to reach new heights, at a time when the challenges faced by the aviation industry require it most. “Reaching new heights echoes to focusing on the future. Not just from a business point of view, but how our industry affects the world.” Electric vehicles, glycol recycling and the development of new technologies are all part of Aero Mag’s innovative toolkit to reduce the environmental impacts of aviation.
“I’d like to focus more time on auditing and quality control, as I already enjoy that side of the business,” replies James when asked what the future holds for him at Aero Mag. Quality control at a deicing station such as LHR implies making sure that fluids are good to use, that the equipment is serviceable and well maintained and the paperwork and documentation is kept up to date and correctly filled out.
In five years, he sees himself supporting different stations with quality control. “We keep our stations to a high standard. Everyone is impressed, and it’s an understatement really, because they are truly impressed when they come to visit our stations.”
James might have deicing in his blood and a knack for improving health and safety with innovative practices, but he isn’t the only changemaker at Aero Mag! Meet Mark Vilcek, Operations Manager at our Montreal RRR (Recover, Recycle, Reuse) recycling plant.
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