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Society & Success

High-flying young boss

British Airways Kenya Commercial Manager. PHOTO | SALATON NJAU
British Airways Kenya Commercial Manager. PHOTO | SALATON NJAU 

The commercial manager of British Airways, Kevin Leung, fresh and young-faced, strides into K- Lounge at Kempinski Hotel like he just didn’t step out of a long Red Eye not long ago and has hardly had 40 winks.

Well, that could be because he’s only 27 and that he flew business. Leung, who holds a Master’s degree in Health, Population and Society from London School of Economics, was prior to this new role the sales development executive, Asia Pacific, Middle East and Africa with the airline based in Ghana.

His new role in Kenya is marked by the introduction of the Boeing 747-400 with 784 seats a week on the London and Nairobi.

Quick witted and calm, Leung sat with JACKSON BIKO for a light pow wow.

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How do you get here at 27, is there a potion?

For my looks? None. (Chuckles) For my work? I joined BA when I was fresh out of university—at 21. I was quite lucky that I started on my rotations immediately—personal/customer, strategy, commercial roles to get a good understanding of what one wants to do long term. And then an opportunity came to work in Ghana. Slightly over two and a half years later I was fortunate to have Kenya added to my portfolio. The good thing is I can apply what I’ve learnt in Ghana in Kenya.

Where did you grow up?

I was born in the UK, but my parents aren’t from the UK as you can probably tell.

Does your Master’s in Health and Population help in this job in any way?

I think in so far as learning about different populations in different countries, I find out a little about where the countries are, I mean, you can tell a lot about a country by the kind of its population. But on a day-to-day basis, the most important thing is just natural curiosity for the world and for learning new things, rather than what I actually had at university. It wasn’t a wasted a time though.

How do you think your age works for you in this role?

It’s a good thing, but I also think it can be a hindrance. Being young and growing up with technology, and having new experiences helps. But sometimes I sense that people are thinking about my age more than what really matters, not just in BA but also externally. I always say that I’m still learning, no one has all the answers anyway, but certainly at the age of 27, there are certain things I can learn.

Do you feel like your internal age is still 27 or you feel 50 inside?

When I go for long flights, you know, I don’t feel 50 for sure... (Laughter). I think I’m still young at heart. I try to do things outside of work which still connect me to my internal age and make me healthier mentally. I certainly feel 27 physically.

What have you learnt so far as a young high-flying executive?

That I can push myself far. That there are only 24 hours in a day and it’s quite important to have that distinction between work and life. I’ve learnt not to let work get in the way of life. You work to live, you don’t live to work. This opportunity has been immense—if I was in an office in London I don’t think I could know much about these countries, these people...

Who is the Chinese in you?

Well, physically you can’t mistake me for someone else. (Laughs). Having an opportunity to travel a lot back to Asia to visit family keeps things in perspective of who I am, even though I’m British. It also kind of gives me a text of what the world looks like beyond the UK. But I don’t speak Chinese fluently, I’m afraid. So it’s a huge regret. Well, not a regret, but I wish I could speak Chinese fluently.

What’s your definition of youth?

It’s kind of difficult because physically anyone can feel youthful. However, I think that being youthful is being at that stage where you’re still socking up and getting a lot of new experiences. People can be youthful until old age as long as they are young at heart. You lose your youth as soon as you lose that passion or drive, to try new things and travel.

Walk me through Kevin Leung’s day when he’s 40 years old.

At 40? Probably wake up with a backache. (Laughs) I’ll still be at BA. If not, I’ll still work in something connected to the aviation industry. I’ll still be travelling, working in a comfortable easy-going job in the UK. Young family. Maybe I’ll be able to speak fluent Chinese then. Maybe a new hobby...

I see you have a brand new wedding band. I smell fresh marriage vows…

(Laughs) I’m quite impressed you can tell that. Yes, I got married two weeks ago!

Oh, congratulations!

Thank you. Still married two weeks later. (Laughter) So we have known each other from university days. It’s been a long time coming, over six years now. She’s a doctor, does part-time clinical work and part-time research work at Cambridge.

Did you marry a nice Chinese girl or you cast the net further out?

She’s actually Singaporean. But she’s lived in the UK for 18 years. So we both consider ourselves British, but also the Asian flavour. (Smirk).

They say success changes everybody. Are you feeling the pull of success and to what direction?

Success makes you hungrier. Once you taste it, you’re constantly thinking; where am I going to be in two years’ time? It makes you not lose focus of what’s in front of you and gives perspective of what you can achieve and at the pace of which you can achieve it well.

Do you believe in reincarnation?

I don’t, but I like the idea. (Laughs)

Given a choice, what would you like to come back as?

(Long pause) That’s a very interesting question. (Sighs) Having put in so much as a human, I’d prefer something a little bit different. A bird or something...still tangible with aviation...but it certainly has to be a living thing…

A work-horse maybe?

No, that’s what I am now. (Laughs)

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