Mike Buccialia

“Hindsight is everything; we've seen where companies have struggled, where software fails, and how poor processes have let companies down. Launching a company as part of the Fourth Industrial Revolution we can improve upon all those areas drawing from recent innovations and modern cloud based services,” says Kambr CCO Mike Buccialia.

Kambr Inc., the parent company of Kambr Media, has hired its first Chief Commercial Officer as the global software, advisory, and digital content startup continues to expand its services and offerings in the commercial airline and tech space. In his role as Kambr’s CCO, Mike Buccialia is charged with building out the company’s revenue strategies and client services.

This hire comes as the company, with offices in Amsterdam, New York, Los Angeles, Minneapolis, and San Francisco, having secured its $4 million seed funding round in September, continues to add key positions to its growing team. Kambr currently has roughly 30 staffers worldwide.

Kambr Inc. has positioned itself as a provider of technological solutions for airlines seeking to increase revenues. To that end,  Kambr Inc. is a holding company comprised of specialized divisions that  provide machine learning, data visualization, and actionable insights guided by an experienced team of consultants and journalists, along with a tested marketing staff.

By establishing distinct Software, Advisory, and Media units, Kambr expects to “usher in a new era of thought leadership, commercial intelligence, and demand management,” the company has previously said.

"We welcome Mike as an integral part of our leadership team,” says Kambr co-founder and CEO Jason Kelly. “He not only brings a wealth of experience to the table, but an energy and sincere passion for aviation and tech, that will lift all facets of our business."

Buccialia joins Kambr from Adobe, where he was Services Sales Leader for Travel + Hospitality Strategic Accounts. He previously spent over seven years at travel technology provider Sabre, where he focused on Airline Solutions, most recently in the APAC region. Before that, he was a product manager at Amadeus’ Navitaire. He began his career in aviation operations at Frontier Airlines in May 2002.

Kambr Media: What are your initial goals as you settle into this new position?

Mike Buccialia: Whether it's year one or year 10, my goal is the same: make sure we have happy customers. At a high level, that's where my focus is.

What that means for short terms goals is focusing on our launch customers to understand their expectations, and get creative in how we exceed those. The next step is to build out lightweight processes to help Kambr manage all the pent up inbound demand the team has already solicited, and establish a scalable customer success framework as more customers join the Kambr community.

You've been part of the commercial airline industry for a while. How have those previous roles shaped your thinking as you move into this one?

I started my career 20 years ago at Frontier Airlines. From that role, I learned a lot about how airlines operate and the systems they rely on.  I then moved on to Navitaire before joining Sabre. I spent a great deal of my career on the software side, completely focused on airline solutions. I’d love to say that there has been a dramatic change in the last two decades in the ways that airlines operate and the core systems they rely on, but sadly that isn’t the case.

I was most recently at Adobe, where I led the travel and hospitality vertical for professional services. Adobe is truly a leader in digital transformation. Whether in B2B, or B2C, Adobe has cornered the market on all things digital. They cover everything related to digital touchpoints and Customer Experience

Working at Adobe was an eye-opening experience for me in terms of realizing the power of digital, and the associated challenges that come with the digital transformation journey that basically every company is going through.  From my experience working with the legacy systems in the airline industry, I understand why the move to digital is even more complicated for travel and hospitality companies.

My airline software vendor experience and my background in guiding travel companies through digital transformation has given me a unique perspective. The challenges I have faced in these roles has shaped my current view that technology alone won’t solve embedded legacy challenges.  You have to bring a total solution to market that is a clear value-add. You have to incorporate new processes and new ways of working.

Ultimately, my past work has shown me how to get the most out of all the data and insights available in this digital world. Most importantly, I’ve learned you must put the customer at the center of your focus and decision making; anything else, and you will miss the mark.

The big buzzword right now is “airline retailing.” There are efforts in place to get to that position where airlines can offer more personalized options and engagements with passengers. As far as the impact is on the technology landscape, there are a lot of things that must shift in order to do that right.

What was your first role at Frontier and how did you decide to get into aviation?

I'd love for this to be a very romantic story about love and admiration for flying.

But I pretty much ended up at Frontier unexpectedly. I grew up in New Jersey and spent most of my early life on the east coast, but I had this longing to see more of the world. The obvious starting point was to see more in the U.S. So, I decided to move west.

I had friends living in Las Cruces, New Mexico, so, on a whim, I packed my bags, and drove out there.

One of the premier employers in Las Cruces at the time was Frontier Airlines. They had a big call center there for their reservations department. I pretty much said to them, "Sign me up,” and was ushered through Frontier’s training program.

That was my first eye-opening experience. As long ago as this was, it was already the era of the internet and priceline.com was one of the premier booking engines at that time for consumers. I was already used to this web-type interface with a user-friendly GUI. To see that Frontier’s back office functions were being managed with green screens was mind blowing.

Despite working with, what felt to me like ancient technology, I mastered it pretty quickly. I was then offered the opportunity to move to Denver, where Frontier Airlines is headquartered. I moved up into a supervisor role, where I helped train other reservation agents.

It really was fortuitous in terms of my overall career. I came to understand the systems really well, which was how I then landed a spot at Navitaire. I understood how the functions worked, what the processes were, and what the technical needs were.

My time at Frontier expanded my horizons in terms of travel and seeing the world, solidifying my admiration for the industry.  Above all else, I worked with some incredible people who mentored me in my early days, and who have continued to mentor me — and many, many people who I still call friends to this day. I couldn’t have asked for a better outcome from my time there.

 

What led you to join Kambr?

Without question, my initial interest was based on the collection of industry veterans at Kambr who I know have a unique vision for what can be done in commercial aviation.

That starts with [Kambr co-founder and CEO] Jason Kelly, who I met at Frontier Airlines nearly 20 years ago. We've kept in touch, and kept that friendship going. We were always checking in and sharing what we were seeing across the industry.

Obviously, he made moves into ad tech, and we talked a lot about the parallels between that space and commercial aviation over the years. Seeing the vision of what became Kambr evolve over time, it really started to dawn on me that this team wasn’t just going to build an amazing set of solutions – they were set on building an amazing company whose core values mirrored mine.

Hindsight is everything; we've seen where companies have struggled, where software fails, and how poor processes have let companies down. Launching a company as part of the Fourth Industrial Revolution we can improve upon all those areas drawing from recent innovations and modern cloud based services.

The final piece that clinched me was how the founders talked about their customer.  They have a genuine passion for unlocking value and creating new ways of working for those in commercial functions within the travel space.  They sat in those seats and have the knowledge to create a better experience.

What do you think they’ve done particularly right?

Bringing in media as a platform to help people to understand what's happening in the industry and to promote change within the industry is one example of innovation that typical SaaS startups aren’t usually thinking about. Having an advisory group to guide customers through adaptation and gracefully adopt new ways to work is also a key to early success. And of course Kambr’s digital-first approach to building next generation tools is timely.  Finally, building the resources to wrap all these advantages together and deliver a comprehensive solution to the industry is just completely game changing. I had to be a part of it.

Looking back at your career history and the conversations you’ve been having with the Kambr founders, what do you think is driving the current state of airline digital transformation and online retailing?

That's the big question, right? The overly simple answer is that younger generations are expecting modern solutions in the workplace, which we know commercial departments at airlines are lacking. And then, of course, traveler expectations have changed and expanded also.

I think airlines are seeing other industries, such as retail, making big headways into more personalized engagement with their customers, with increasingly customized offers.  Even financial services companies, which are just as mired in legacy systems and regulations as the airlines, are making rapid progress on this front. You have companies like SoFi and Wealthfront coming in and taking a digital first approach.

The big buzzword right now is “airline retailing.” There are efforts in place to get to that position where airlines can offer more personalized options and engagements with passengers. As far as the impact is on the technology landscape, there are a lot of things that must shift in order to do that right.

The challenge is to enable airlines to own and use technology in the ways that consumers are expecting, and to meet those expectations across all touchpoints and channels while simultaneously making the experience easy, efficient, and tailored to them. David Neeleman has a tremendous track record for bringing innovation to the airline game and is taking a digital first approach. I believe the industry will be watching closely to see what his team is able to achieve, and it will most likely be the new benchmark for how airlines operate.

Lastly, as a passenger yourself, do you have a favorite destination?

As far as a favorite destination — and it's odd for me to call it a destination considering it was once my home — I want to say that Sydney is near and dear to my heart.