A naval engineer from Polytechnic School, Sao Paulo, who also holds an MBA from Fundacao Dom Cabral (INSEAD), Costas began his career as an engineer in offshore oil platforms construction and assembly. “I worked as an engineer in this capacity for five years…At the beginning of my career, this job was very exciting, as I not only gained knowledge but also interacted with many people,” Costas says. “It was also a [process of self-discovery], where I realized that despite my technical education, my interest was more on project management and the business side of things.”
Moving forward in his career, Costas worked for a decade with Sulzer Rotating Equipment, a Brazilian subsidiary of a Swiss company. His experience with Sulzer spanned several areas, ranging from industrial operations to supply chain and quality management. “Working across various positions allowed me to gain a [holistic perspective] on how a business is run, including marketing and managing products,” Costas explains.
Then, in 2000, Costas moved to Embraer, one of the world’s largest aircraft manufacturers, and served as division manager of contracts for the Commercial Jets Division, where he led a team that managed a US$ 6.5 billion firm backlog. Two years flew by in the Commercial Jets Division before Costas was offered the opportunity to set up and grow the Executive Jets Division.
“I was honored to be a part of this new area of business within the company,” Costas says. “The team sizes were much smaller as compared to Commercial Aviation, and handling customers in Executive Aviation was a [totally different experience].” Costas assumed the formidable task of building a brand in the executive jets segment, an area fraught with challenges, as it had not been previously established. Nevertheless, his earlier experiences gave him the confidence and knowledge to take on this opportunity.
Costas moved to Singapore to handle the executive jets business in the Asian subcontinent, where he’s gained some unique and intriguing perspectives on brand management regarding both the airline and Asia.
“There is no brand recognition if your product or service does not have superior quality. Differentiation can be based on style, design, service or maybe all those aspects combined,” he says.
“Understanding the requirements of this [brand’s] target audience, we developed jets that were spacious, with roomier interiors. We hired BMW Group DesignworksUSA, one of the best in the industry, to tailor-make four of our seven private jet models…Thankfully, the results have been good and many customers agree that the private jets we make are superior to some of the others in the market.”
Continuing his thoughts on branding and highlighting the importance of brand engagement, Costas feels that “customer support is another [essential] for developing a reputable brand. Customers feel assured that if something goes wrong, there’s always someone to fall back on.”
Costas also explains that customers in the commercial aviation business are quite different from customers in the private jet industry. Customers of commercial jets have detailed knowledge of spare parts, hangars and other technical aspects, whereas private jet owners often don’t have a working understanding of infrastructure or technical expertise. So customer support in this segment becomes very important, as the Embraer brand must sustain not just a positive image but one that instills confidence in customers through technically knowledgeable and competent employees.
“Keeping this in mind, we recently tied up with an Indian company to open a service centre in India, one of the growing markets for executive jets in the region,” Costas says.
He points out that developing a brand requires considerable teamwork and consistency concerning what customers can expect from Embraer’s products and services, and consistency regarding how the brand deals with the mistakes the company makes. This realistic approach to Embraer’s future branding opportunities and challenges affords it a strong current brand identity. However, the company is also committed to a continuous improvement model.
In mature markets such as the US and Europe, many prospective customers have experienced the opportunity of owning an executive jet. So presenting Embraer’s products in the West is easier, as customers are more familiar with and have greater brand and product experience. In Asia, the market is still young, with only 500 to 600 jets as compared to 50,000 in the West. Even though Embraer has a strong presence in Western markets, the brand realizes that communication in both of these regions requires different approaches to acquiring customer loyalty. Yet Costas knows the quality of the brand and public perception remain rooted in the quality of its products.
He explains, “Today, we know that Embraer is heading in the right direction when we see the backlog of customers waiting to be served. Also, products from our competitors are being modified based on our ideas. Our products have changed the way the industry does business.”
With that level of innovation, brand awareness and employee engagement behind Embraer, it appears that Costas has the brand cleared for takeoff in Asia.