Prior to joining Oliver Wyman, Sumati became a Chartered Accountant with EY, and then had a long tenure with Virgin Atlantic. Over the course of 16 years, Sumati took on a variety of roles at Virgin across finance, strategy, commercial, and HR, covering both the airline and tour operator, Virgin Holidays.
Sumati successfully led the design and implementation of the $13 billion expanded joint venture with Delta Air Lines and Air France KLM, creating the pre-eminent transatlantic aviation joint venture that commands a quarter of airline capacity between the UK/Europe and the US. The program was a success thanks to Sumati’s ability to form strong, meaningful relationships at the most senior levels. Most recently, she led Virgin Atlantic’s Covid-19 cost restructuring program.
Relationships based on deep trust are able to move complex programs at speed while ensuring stakeholders feel informed and empowered at all times.
Looking forward, despite the challenges of Covid-19, Sumati sees many opportunities, especially in leisure travel. “Customer expectations are changing, particularly with regards to safety, cleanliness, and sustainability, and addressing these demands in new and innovative ways will enable organizations such as airlines ways to reimagine the customer journey and to stand out from the competition,” she notes. “In parallel, using digital capabilities and world-leading analytics will be critical, along with ensuring businesses’ cost-base and organizational design is lean, agile, and fit for purpose in the post-Covid-19 world.”
Beyond her extensive work across strategy and finance, Sumati is a champion for diversity and inclusion in the travel industry, speaking regularly on diversity topics, including at the House of Commons and the Aviation 2050 Conference. She is the Founder and Board Co-Chair for the Women in Aviation & Aerospace Charter. With more than 220 companies listed as signatories and supported by UK Government, the Charter is committed to creating a more balanced and fair industry for women.
There is a lot of talk around gender and race, but we must work together as an industry to translate those words into actions.
Sumati has been named an EMpower Top 100 Ethnic Minority Executive, recognized as an Advocate for Change in the Women in Hospitality, Travel & Leisure Index, and won the 30% Club scholarship to the London Business School’s Senior Executive Program.
Sumati’s passion for travel started at a young age, thanks to the richness and diversity of her background and childhood experiences: with her father from Kenya and mother from India, she had lived in Holland, France, and Scotland by the time she was 13. It was in Scotland that she earned her degree, starting university at just 16 years old.
I learned very early on to work hard, adapt quickly, be inclusive, and be collaborative. These became important qualities that helped me to acclimatize rapidly and adapt to new and changing environments.
Outside of work, Sumati enjoys health, fitness, nutrition, and, of course, travel. Her son keeps her occupied on the weekends with county-level competitions in chess and cricket.